The Ultimate Gun Safe Guide, by The Gun Study

Let’s dive right into it. First up are the safes you’re probably considering as a first-time handgun owner: Portable lockboxes and bedside pistol safes. New to the guide? I recommend reading Part One, too. It covers gun safe specs and ratings, locks, and features. Part Three covers long gun safes, coming soon!


Things to Consider

  • Easy access. A pistol safe’s no good if you can’t quickly get your weapon. I want instant access in case of emergencies.
  • Reliability. Your handgun storage needs to work all the time. That means it needs to open when it should, and it can’t let unauthorized users gain access.
  • Physical Protection. Remember those UL ratings in Part One? You won’t find a lockbox or pistol safe that meets the Underwriters Laboratories protection and fireproof ratings. Regardless, a good pistol safe must have steel hinges, a solid lid or door, and a reliable lock.
  • Type of Lock. Your pistol safe’s lock is most important. You’ll need to decide whether you want a biometric fingerprint scanner, digital keypad, or a mechanical combo or key lock.
  • Space and storage. Some pistol safes are portable, while others are made for the home. Think of the dimensions of your luggage, backpack, glovebox, nightstand or cabinets. Your container should be large enough for your handgun and one spare magazine. Double-check safe measurements (and your pistol’s dimensions) before buying.

Best Bedside Pistol Safes

Larger pistol safes are for at-home storage. These safes aren’t necessarily for travel, but they can still be moved easily. They’re more compact and affordable than full-size gun safes. I’ll cover portable lockboxes next. Here are our top picks:

1. Fort Knox PB1 Handgun Safe (Editor’s Pick)

The pistol safe with the most physical security, period.

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For physical security and reliability, the Fort Knox beats other pistol safes by a mile. It provides the kind of protection you’d find in a full-size long gun safe. It’s expensive, but it’s a beast: It weighs 23 pounds with 10-gauge steel plating. A reinforced 3/16″ door secures the container. The door’s heavy enough to require a gas strut, and the lid wraps around the whole container to prevent prying. It’s got a massive deadbolt covered with more 10-gauge plating, and it opens with an utterly reliable Simplex® mechanical lock. Bolted down by its four anchor holes, the Fort Knox will deter a determined thief.

Specifications

  • Lock Type: 5-Digit Simplex® Punch lock
  • Backup Lock: N/A
  • Weather Resistant: Yes
  • Included Accessories: None
  • Meets TSA Guidelines: Yes
  • Construction: Powdercoated 10-ga. plating, 3/16″ steel door
  • Exterior Dimensions: 12.50″ wide X 10.50″ long X 4.50″ tall
  • Interior Dimensions: 11.63″ wide X 10.63″ long X 3.62″ tall
  • Empty Weight: 23.70 lbs.

Operation

A Simplex lock is like a digital combo lock, but it works even faster without electronics. With the 5 keys, you can program any combination of button presses, for a total of 1,081 combinations. Once the combo’s set, press all buttons in the combo, then turn the knob and open the door. The door will rise on its own with the strut. To lock the unit, close the lid and turn the knob again. This is a commercial-grade lock that doesn’t require a back-up key.

Pros

If you want an old-school mechanical gun safe that can’t be picked and can stop a thief without battery power, this is a great choice. At $250 it’s pricey, but the Fort Knox will probably outlast you. It has a load of interior storage and quite a bit of egg-crate foam padding. It’s still light enough to transport by hand but it’s small enough for a nightstand, cabinet, or storage under the bed. Once it’s bolted down, the Fort Knox ain’t moving unless you attack it with power tools. Although not meant for wet weather, the container’s design and powdercoat are moderately water-resistant.

Cons

For two and a half Benjamins, you’re really just getting a lot of nice steel and a very good mechanical lock. Having no electronics might be a con for you. That’s especially if you like extra security, like a tamper alarm system or Bluetooth tracking.


2. awesafe Gun Safe with Biometric Scanner

Most affordable biometric nightstand safe.

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At about half the cost of the Fort Knox, the awesafe comes with plenty of features that place it at #2 on our list. A reliable biometric fingerprint scanner makes opening this bedside safe quick and easy, even in the pitch black. The door is assisted with a small strut, too. 16-gauge steel and an anti-impact latch form the security container and provide plenty of physical protection. The lid’s hinge is massive and fully enclosed, eliminating the most vulnerable part of any small gun safe. The rest of the lid is recessed and angled down into the safe’s walls to prevent prying. At just over 3″ tall, it’s sleek enough to fit in most nightstands.

Specifications

  • Lock type: Biometric fingerprint scammer w/ digital keypad combination
  • Backup Lock: Manual key
  • Keypad: Digital buttons
  • Keypad Code Length: 4 digits
  • Battery Type: Four AAs
  • Battery Life: 3 to 6 months w/ indicator
  • Weather Resistant: No
  • Included Accessories: (2) manual keys, micro-USB charging cable, AC power adapter, rechargeable lithium-ion battery, steel security cable, and mounting hardware.
  • Meets TSA Guidelines: Yes
  • Construction: Plastic-coated 16-ga. steel
  • Exterior Dimensions: 12.1″ wide X 9.9″ long X 3.2″ tall
  • Interior Dimensions: 9.7″ wide X 6.7″ long X 2.2″ tall
  • Empty Weight: 7.05 lbs.

Operation

The awesafe provides three methods of entry, with the fingerprint scanner being the quickest. An illuminated 4-digit keypad provides digital combo access. Successfully entering either a digital combo or using your print will automatically pop the safe open, and the lid will rise on its own thanks to the strut. In the event of a dead battery, the safe can still be opened relatively quickly with the provided back-up key. The inside sports a nice LED for nighttime access.

Pros

The awesafe provides plenty of physical security and nice access features for a relatively low price. At just over $100, it’s also one of the most affordable fingerprint-scanning bedside safes constructed from proper steel. I like that the door automatically pops open unassisted once you’ve entered your credentials. This saves critical seconds in an emergency. The awesafe can also be bolted down with two holes drilled inside, and wood screws provided.

Cons

Few cons accompany the awesafe. It’s perfectly designed for its intended purpose: It’s large enough to fit most full-sized handguns with a magazine to spare, but it’s small enough for desks and nightstands. With home defense in mind, access was made simple and reliable.


3. Vaultek VT20i Biometric Handgun Safe

Most feature-rich pistol safe. Bluetooth with remote tamper/alarm system.

The VT20i is Robocop in his previously-unseen pistol safe form. It checks all the boxes: Biometric fingerprint lock, digital keypad, back-up lock, 16-gauge all-steel construction, Bluetooth app with remote control, built-in tamper warning system with timed automatic lock-out, audible alarm system, rechargeable battery, 4 to 6 months of battery life, proximity sensor with night light, TSA-approval for flight, and the list goes on. Just as well, this is one of the most expensive portable lockboxes, starting at $269.99. But it’s also providing the most security measures of any pistol safe, so I feel the cost is justified if you can afford it.

Specifications

  • Lock type: Biometric fingerprint scammer w/ digital keypad combination
  • Backup Lock: Manual key, USB power
  • Keypad: Digital buttons with proximity sensor
  • Keypad Code Length: 4 to 8 digits
  • Battery Type: 18650 rechargeable lithium-ion, 3.7v 2200 MAh
  • Battery Length: 4 to 6 months on a single charge
  • Weather Resistant: No
  • Included Accessories: (2) manual keys, micro-USB charging cable, AC power adapter, rechargeable lithium-ion battery, steel security cable, and mounting hardware.
  • Meets TSA Guidelines: Yes
  • Construction: Plastic-coated 16-ga. steel
  • Exterior Dimensions: 11.5″ wide X 9.0″ long X 2.625″ tall
  • Interior Dimensions: 11.0″ wide X 5.75″ long X 2.0″ tall
  • Empty Weight: 7.05 lbs.

Operation

The VT20i can be opened three ways: Instantly, by pressing your coded fingerprint to the biometric scanner; by punching in a 4- to 8-digit combo on the keypad, or by using the manual lock. To wake the device for entry, simply press the finger scanner or begin typing in your access code.

Pros

This case provides high levels of physical security in a unit that’s still small enough to be portable. The lid’s reinforced with anti-pry bars, and the entire steel casing is welded as a single piece. The steel security cable is thick and provides a reliable anchor for preventing a takeaway theft. The fingerprint scanner can store up to 20 profiles, so friends and family in the home can have access. Lastly, the lock has an activity record to show you every time the device is approached or interacted with. Charge time takes about 2.5 hours.

Cons

The VT20i is not weather-resistant and has no official waterproof rating. Although Vaultek advertises the VT20i as a portable safe, I find it bulky and large — perhaps too much so for travel. It’s also not at all weather-resistant. That means it’s probably not the best candidate if you’re looking for a good travel safe. Lastly, this safe is pricey because of all its features. If you want something that provides similar levels of protection without so many bells and whistles, the awesafe costs about half as much.


4. RPNB Portable Security Safe (RP19003)

Most affordable and low-profile pistol safe.

Bells and whistles ain’t for everybody, nor is the bulk and heft that come with them. If you’re living that apartment life, have smaller furniture, or just want a good, affordable pistol safe that’ll fit just about anywhere in the home, RPNB’s Portable Security Safe is a great choice. It keeps things affordable by ditching things like biometrics and Bluetooth, focusing on providing a compact unit made from good steel that adequate protection. It’s made from powdercoated 16-gauge steel, it costs about $60 bucks, and it has a spring-loaded door with an easy-to-use, lit keypad. You can’t ask for much more, for any less.

Specifications

  • Lock type: Digital keypad combination
  • Backup Lock: Manual key
  • Keypad: Illuminated digital buttons
  • Keypad Code Length: 4 to 6 digits
  • Battery Type: Four AAAs
  • Battery Length: 6 months on a single charge
  • Weather Resistant: No
  • Included Accessories: Steel security cable, anchor hardware for tie-down.
  • Meets TSA Guidelines: Yes
  • Construction: Powdercoated 16-ga. steel
  • Exterior Dimensions: 11.81″ wide X 9.84″ long X 2.56″ tall
  • Interior Dimensions: 11.02″ wide X 7.48″ long X 2.36″ tall
  • Empty Weight: 7.01 lbs.

Operation

The RPNB Portable Safe opens automatically by entering your 4-to-6-digit combo. The door is spring-loaded and there’s no “ENTER” or command button necessary. If batteries run out, the back-up key can be used to access the container via the lock on the front side, just underneath the lid.

Pros

We’re pleasantly surprised at the overall build quality for the RPNB’s price. At $60 it’s made from the same steel that $200+ pistol safes use, and the digital keypad works very well. For those who hate beeping, the RPNB’s beeps can be turned off! Simply hold the “1” button for 3 seconds to silence the keypad when pressing the buttons. We also like how svelte and thin this unit is. For its steel gauge, it’s still stout enough to fit in even the smallest nightstand or desk. It’s still spacious enough inside to fit at least two compact handguns or one very large shooter (it’ll hold a full-size 1911 or .44 magnum revolver), plus spare magazines and sensitive items.

Cons

For how small the RPNB is, it’s relatively heavy and it’s not weather-resistant, save for its powdercoat. It’ll make a decent travel safe for its size, but you may find it bulky when loaded. We also would’ve liked to see the keypad housing made from steel instead of plastic, but this does not inhibit its security. The steel container is fully enclosed underneath.


Portable Lockboxes

Portable pistol lockboxes are made for travel. They’re light enough to carry on foot and provide mild physical protection. Most are TSA-approved, too. Virtually no pistol lockbox will provide UL-certified protection or fireproof ratings. Nonetheless, quality boxes are available that’ll deter family, friends, and opportunistic theft. Top picks coming up:

1. Vaultek Lifepod (Editor’s Pick)

Top pick for portable pistol safes.

Up front is Numero Uno. If you want an utterly reliable, compact, waterproof pistol safe with a digital combination lock, the Vaultek Lifepod is the lockbox to consider first. It does just about everything: It’s easy to open, it’s TSA-approved, and it’s small enough fit in a backpack for travel or hiking. It’s made for maritime fun (it’s waterproof and floats when loaded) or home storage in the nightstand, or it can slipped into the center console or underneath your car seat for the commute. Something else many don’t consider: This thing doesn’t necessarily look like a pistol safe. This writer keeps his hidden in plain sight in his kitchen and to date, no one has noticed this box is, in fact, a pistol safe holding a Glock 43X. The Lifepod delivers a sturdy, stealthy unit with a supremely reliable digital combo lock at a very good price. That’s about it, and that’s why I love it.

There isn’t any complicated interface to fidget with, just the keypad and a battery indicator. The unit can be opened in about 2 to 3 seconds. The lock icon’s status is brightly lit to indicate whether the pod’s accessible or secured, and you can use the Lifepod for up to one year before swapping batteries. The entire unit’s sealed with rubber gaskets. It has a backup key lock, of course. The backup key lock can be disabled for those who prefer added security, and emergency power can be provided via USB port. Overall durability is high, and tight build tolerances around the keypad, lock, and lid leave no weak points to pry or attack.

This writer purchased one out-of-pocket for an in-depth review, found here.

Specifications

  • Lock type: Digital keypad combination
  • Backup Lock: Manual key, USB power
  • Keypad: Touch-activated capacitive keypad
  • Keypad Code Length: 4 to 8 digits
  • Battery Type: 9V alkaline battery
  • Battery Length: Up to 1 year
  • Weather Resistant: IP-65 Water-Resistant rating. Airtight, dust proof, and floats in water.
  • Included Accessories: Fabric lanyard, manual keys, crate foam, 4-ft. steel security cable, lid organizer, pluck foam.
  • Meets TSA Guidelines: Yes
  • Construction: Impact-resistant ballistic plastic casing
  • Exterior Dimensions: 10.25″ long x 7″ wide x 2.25″ tall
  • Interior Dimension: 7.75″ long x 6″ wide x 1.75″ tall
  • Empty Weight: 2.18 lbs.

Operation

The Lifepod’s pretty easy to operate in a hurry, which is a big win for home defense. Tap the lock icon, and it’ll light up. Then enter your 4- to 8-digit code, the lock icon will turn green, and the lock will disengage. The side compression latches can then be pressed to open the unit.

Pros

The LifePod provides almost immediate access to your firearm, and it’s incredibly reliable. The electronics on this unit are very responsive. Each button press is instant, and the lock disengages quickly. When wet, it’s still reliable and can be opened easily. I timed emergency access at just under 4 seconds in our review. With practice, you can get faster. It’s also the most compact pistol safe I could find that was strong enough to withstand some physical abuse.

Cons

The LifePod is made from polymer with steel reinforcements, so it can be defeated with power tools more easily than an all-steel lockbox. However, most steel lockboxes are too big and bulky to travel with efficiently. This unit tucks nicely inside small packs and spaces for on-foot travel.


2. RPNB Smart Pistol Safe w/ RFID (RP1136)

Most affordable digital/quick-access pistol lockbox.

RPNB’s Smart RFID Pistol Safe is the smallest, lightest, and most portable digital lockbox in the category. Are there options that approach $20 or $30? Yes, but with cost comes quality and features. The RFID Box is very affordable, but it’s not gimmicky or cheap. It’s automatic/remote access works well and gets high remarks, and it provides decent physical protection with thick steel. This unit’s got no other bells and whistles but it provides instant access with its wireless keyfobs. It still comes with a digital combo keypad and manual key access. This unit meets TSA guidelines for air travel.

Specifications

  • Lock type: Digital keypad combination w/ RFID key fob
  • Backup Lock: Manual key
  • Keypad: Digital buttons with RFID sensor
  • Keypad Code Length: 3 to 8 digits
  • Battery Type: Four AAA alkaline batteries
  • Battery Life: Up to 1 year
  • Weather Resistant: No
  • Included Accessories: (2) key fobs, (2) back-up keys, braided steel security cable, Philips screwdriver for batteries.
  • Meets TSA Guidelines: Yes
  • Construction: Powdercoated 16-ga. steel and hinges
  • Exterior Dimensions: 7.00″ wide X 11.02″ long X 1.85″ tall
  • Interior Dimensions: 6.88″ wide X 8.85″ long X 1.81″ tall
  • Empty Weight: 3.88 lbs.

Operation

The remote access is provided by RFID-chipped key fobs. The keyfobs don’t require batteries, only the unit does (four AAA’s). Wave a fob over the buttons, and the digital lock will disengage. If you don’t like carrying the fob with you, the 3- to 8-digit keypad works all the same. Lastly, the key can be used for manual access when batteries eventually die on you.

Pros

Compared to many other pistol cases, the RPNB boasts a lot of interior space relative to its size. It’s one of the few that can fit a full-size handgun like the 1911 while remaining highly portable. Next to the LifePod, this pistol case is the best candidate for on-foot travel. The container also has a powdercoat finish that’ll withstand rust and corrosion. For its size, it provides good protection against physical attack. I like the RFID chips, too. They work well and provide instant unlocking without any quirks. The RPNB Gun Safe is California DOJ-certified for CA handgun owners.

Cons

This lockbox is not water-resistant and it has a digital mechanism, so it can’t handle wet environments if you don’t take steps to waterproof it (like sealing it in a Ziploc). This case comes with basic egg-crate foam that works well enough, but if you want to make a custom fit for your pistol and magazines, you’ll need to buy your own pluck foam.


3. RPNB Portable Biometric Gun Safe (RP19005)

Best affordable biometric pistol lockbox.

RPNB is an overall reputable lockbox maker, and this larger biometric pistol safe is a good performer. It’s the least expensive fingerprint-scanning box we’d personally invest in, and it’s very well built for the price. Its scanner uses a high-quality, 500-DPI sensor. It scans up to 20 prints and opens in less than one second. The lid is spring-assisted, too. The unit’s made entirely from 16-gauge steel with tight tolerances to deter prying. It’s a nice quick-access unit with some real heft, and it works well during emergencies.

Specifications

  • Lock type: Biometric fingerprint scanner
  • Backup Lock: Manual key
  • Battery Type: Four AAA alkaline batteries
  • Battery Life: Up to 1 year
  • Weather Resistant: No
  • Included Accessories: (2) back-up keys, braided steel security cable, wall stud anchor for cable, screwdriver for batteries.
  • Meets TSA Guidelines: Yes
  • Construction: Powdercoated 16-ga. steel, anti-impact hinges
  • Exterior Dimensions: 7.80″ wide X 11.80″ long X 2.20″ tall
  • Interior Dimensions: 7.60″ wide X 9.20″ long X 2.00″ tall
  • Empty Weight: 10.58 lbs.

Operation

Using this box is pretty easy. Just tap your stored fingerprint on the scanner, and the lit automatically pops open and will remain open at a 90-degree angle. I noticed a lot of reviews claiming that any print will open the lid. That’s because initially, no prints are stored. To make initial setup easy, the box is programmed to open by touch until your print’s scanned for the first time. The unit takes four AAAs (not included) and battery life is estimated to be around 6 months to 1 year. A back-up key lock sits underneath and left of the fingerprint scanner.

Pros

RPNB’s biometric safe is about as tough, reliable, and easy to access as the VT20i for a much lower price. The tradeoff is losing the bells n’ whistles like Bluetooth, a digital keypad, and a rechargeable battery. But if you follow the K.I.S.S. philosophy, this might be a better option for you. It’s also less bulky since it doesn’t use any polymer. It’s all steel with reinforced hinges and lots of protection surrounding the lock and hinge.

Cons

This unit isn’t a featherweight. It provides a lot of security but in exchange, it tips the scales compared to our other picks: Just under 11 pounds. There’s enough space for a .44 Magnum and personal items to boot. But you probably won’t enjoy carrying this case (plus all that gun weight) for long distances. This one can be used for air travel, but it blurs the lines between a conveniently portable lockbox and bedside safe.


SnapSafe Keyed Lockbox (Large, 75200)

The absolute bare-bones, it’s the most affordable pistol safe I’d trust.


If the absolute minimum is what you desire in a portable pistol safe, the SnapSafe is the ticket. It’s the smallest, most portable, and most affordable pistol safe on our list, coming in at around $25. X- and XX-large models are available for $33 and $40, respectively. The SnapSaf is the “cheapest” thing I’d personally trust to carry my handguns while traveling. It is TSA- and California DOJ-approved, and it’s made from 16-gauge steel with a recessed hinge. A simple key lock is all that’s provided, but a decent (1,500-lb.-rated) steel security cable is included. The areas around the lid are reinforced and layered, and the edges are rounded for easy transport and carry. Inside, simple compressing foam protects your piece and magazine(s). No electronics, no waterproofing, but low cost.

Specifications

  • Lock type: Key and tumbler
  • Backup Lock: N/A
  • Battery Type: N/A
  • Battery Life: N/A
  • Weather Resistant: No
  • Included Accessories: (2) keys, steel security cable
  • Meets TSA Guidelines: Yes
  • Construction: Powdercoated 16-ga. steel, recessed hinge
  • External Dimensions (Large): 7.00″ wide X 10.25″ long X 2.00″ tall
  • Internal Dimensions (Large): 6.50″ wide X 9.50″ long X 1.75″ tall
  • Empty Weight: 3.66 lbs.

Operation

It doesn’t get any easier than this: To operate the SnapSafe, just lock or unlock the unit with the provided key. The lid opens and closes manually, and the key turns the latch inside.

Pros

As far as travel goes, the SnapSafe wins the competition. It’s the lightest and smallest unit on our list, making it perfect for those who travel constantly with a handgun. The unit’s small enough to tuck away inside a large coat pocket, if needed. It manages to stay light when loaded up, even with an all-steel construction. The unit earns a certification from the California DoJ, so it had to meet basic protection requirements. That’s good reassurance given its low price point.

Cons

What you see is what you get. Some might not find any cons with the SnapSafe. For a box that’s so simple, it’s difficult to pick out any negatives. Physical protection is adequate but given its incredibly compact size, an opportunist thief might find the SnapSafe to be an easy target if it’s left in the open. Keep your eye on this box, and don’t let it get lost inside the blackhole that is your luggage.


(A portable pistol lockbox to avoid)

The First Alert Portable Handgun Safe (and others like it) don’t seem safe at all.

This box has come up quite a few times, so I want to warn you about it. The First Alert handgun safe seems to get high remarks and might look like a good lockbox at around $70, but I think it should be avoided. Too many customer reviews with positive ratings seem suspicious. Actual reviews claim the battery-operated digital keypad fails after just days or weeks. Others comment the locking mechanism is utterly finicky and unreliable, at times refusing to open even with the back-up key. Overall construction seems poor, in my opinion. Tolerances on the lid and hinges appear loose, the keypad seems to be housed in very thin plastic. It’s made from 18-gauge steel but the lock’s latch appears to be an open lever, not a captured loop. Eighteen-gauge is relatively thin, and this latch design allows for easy prying.


FAQ & Recap

Q: What does “16-gauge” steel mean?

A: You saw that spec listed quite a lot in this guide. The term “16-gauge” refers to the thickness of a safe’s steel container. A 16-ga. safe measures approximately 1/16″ or 0.06″ thick. Layers of steel are often used, especially around hinges, lids, and locks.

Part one of this guide covers safe gauges, locks, and other specs.

Q: How do I know if a pistol safe is TSA-approved?

A: Many cases will indicate they are TSA-approved. Even if a hard safe doesn’t advertise this, chances are it’s approved for air travel. The standards are relatively generic. The TSA spells out some guidelines for what kinds of firearm containers they will allow for air travel:

  • Your pistol safe must have a key lock or combination lock (manual or digital).
  • Your pistol safe must be hard-sided on all sides, not made of cloth or fabric.
  • High-strength polymer is acceptable. Steel cases are not required for travel.
  • Your case must be impact- and pry-resistant and must withstand physical abuse.
  • You case does not need to use a TSA-approved lock. Avoid this.

Q: Why should I not use a TSA-approved lock for my pistol safe?

A: TSA states that only you, the firearm owner, should have access your firearm container while traveling. You gun case cannot be carried on the plane and must be checked as luggage. If TSA or security at the airport need to access your firearm container, they will contact and locate you so that you can personally open the container in their presence. Do not ever open your pistol safe inside the airport unless instructed by and in the presence of security.

Q: What’s the difference between a pistol lockbox and a pistol safe?

A: There is no official distinguishing factor. Technically, all the options we listed in this guide (save for the Fort Knox) are portable. Some are much easier to carry than others. For frequent travel, you want a lockbox or safe that weighs 4 pounds or less. The average loaded handgun weighs about 1.5 to 2.5 pounds, which would make for a total carry weight of 5.5 to 6.5 lbs.