Bag Sand Comparison Test
Heavy Sand Options for Benchrest Sandbags
For most shooting applications, "heavy is good" when it comes to sandbags. The more your sandbag weighs, the better it will resist movement or mis-alignment that can throw off a shot. In order to increase the weight of their rear bags, serious shooters have turned to exotic sand formulations that offer greater density (hence higher weight by volume) than plain silica sand (aka "play sand").
In this article, Jason Baney reviews three popular alternatives to play sand for rear sandbags. He tested each variety to determine its density, i.e. how much volume it would displace per pound. Then he calculated how much each type of sand would weigh in various sizes of rear sandbags: standard, large, and ultra-large (Bigfoot). Check our Rapid Reference Chart to see how much weight you can add to your sandbag by switching to heavy sand.
Is heavy sand worth the added expense? For serious shooters, the answer is yes. More mass equals more stability, and a more stable bag will help you shoot tighter groups. By switching from conventional sand to Zircon or Chromite, you can DOUBLE the weight of sand in your rear bag.
Heavy Sand -- Weighing the Benefits
by Jason Baney
Many serious Benchrest shooters fill their sand bags with "heavy sand". This practice may seem "overkill" to most shooters, but its benefits are realized quickly when shooting from a bench. Heavy sand is more dense than normal silica "play sand" and therefore makes the sandbag heavier and more stable. How much heavier is the heaviest sand? Check the chart below and you'll see that Zircon sand weighs essentially TWICE as much as ordinary play sand. More weight equals more inertia opposing bag movement, plus more gravity-induced "stiction" on the bottom of the bag. In other words, using heavy sand helps your rear bag stay planted on the bench during a string of fire. When you shoot a hard-recoiling gun, the difference between a bag filled with play sand vs. Zircon is very noticeable. The Zircon-filled bag stays put. The play sand-filled bag may not.
Rapid Reference Chart
|Comparative Sand Weights by Sandbag Size|
|SandBag Type||Play Sand||Riverbed Sand||Chromite||Zircon|
|Standard 5"x6"||5.1 lbs.||7.9 lbs.||9.9 lbs.||10.1 lbs.|
|Large 6"x8"||6.8 lbs.||10.5 lbs.||13.2 lbs.||13.4 lbs.|
|BigFoot 6"x13"||10.2 lbs.||15.8 lbs.||19.7 lbs.||20.1 lbs.|
|Weight Increase Compared to Play Sand|
|Zincon +98%||Chromite +94%||Riverbed Sand +55%|
The Benefits of Heavier Sand
Heavy Sand helps your sandbag resist the tendency to shift or change alignment (relative to the stock) during recoil. This ability to maintain sandbag alignment is vital when shooting competitive Benchrest, either short-range or long-range. Having to fight a "migrating" rear bag during a group at 1000 yards will not do anything to help your accuracy. In non-competitive use, heavy sand can still benefit shooters. Friction from the stock on the rear bag, or bumping the bag on recoil with either a body part or pistol grip can move a lighter bag out of place and necessitate realigning the bag to get on target.
Of course there are some shooting situations where you don't need (or don't want) maximum sandbag weight. During a "walk-around" varmint session you may prefer a lighter bag. Beanbags that I carry around the groundhog fields stay filled with plastic beads, making the bag handier to tote. But, any rear bag used on a bench will be as heavy as I can make it while still using "sand" as filler.
Heavy Sand, Lead Shot, and Competition Rules
Some will say, "Well if you want a heavier sandbag, why not just add lead shot?" That is a great idea, but as far as I know, it is also illegal in every form of Benchrest competition. The material in sandbags must actually be "sand", and only sand. It's tempting to filter in a mix of shot and sand to increase weight, but that would also violate the rules.
|Heavy Sand -- Available Types and Properties|
Heavy sand comes in several different varieties. In this article we tested three types: Zircon, Chromite, and commercial Riverbed sand (Exo-Terra brand "Reptile Sand"). All these are heavier alternatives to normal silica "play sand." There are other types of Heavy Sand not tested here, such as Garnet Sand, which is between Chromite and Zircon in weight.
Sources: R.W. Hart sells Zircon sand, while Sinclair Int'l sells black "Heavy Sand", basically chromite. Large quantities of Zircon and Chromite are available from IFS Industries, and other industrial suppliers.
Dupont Zircon M (pale tan): 165-175 lb/cu.ft; avg. particle size 0.01".
Prince Minerals Chrome CAST 7850 (Chromite) (black): 172 lb/cu.ft; avg. particle size 0.02".
Exo-Terra Riverbed sand (amber). Available at pet stores.
Silica "Play Sand" (tan or light gray). Available at Home/Garden stores.
Zircon -- Heavy-Weight Champion
To my knowledge, "Dupont Zircon M" is the heaviest "sand" that a normal human can acquire. It is also the most expensive. Zircon is a very light tan/brown color and is very similar in appearance to normal sandbox "play sand". Zircon is normally rated as having the greatest density among heavy sands and it has the smallest particle size, though some Chromite sand density values overlap the Zircon numbers.
1.00 pound of Zircon displaces 149cc vs. 295cc for Play Sand. So, that means Zircon is 98% heavier than an equal volume of Play Sand.
|CONSUMER TIP: Real ZIRCON sand is TAN in color, not black or dark gray. Some "heavy sand" vendors promise Zircon but deliver a dark gray sand that is something else entirely!|
Chromite -- Almost as Heavy as Zircon, and 30% Cheaper
Chromite sand is nearly the same density as Zircon but it costs quite a bit less. Chromite typically sells for about 25-30% less than Zircon (comparing bulk prices of both types of sand). Chromite sand is black in color. So when you buy "heavy sand," make sure you are getting what you pay for.
1.00 pound of Chromite displaces 152cc vs. 295cc for Play Sand. So, that means Chromite is 94% heavier than an equal volume of Play Sand.
Riverbed Sand -- Weighs Less but Costs More than Chromite
Riverbed sand, is about 30% less dense than Zircon or Chromite, but is about 150% more dense than silica sand. Depending upon where you buy this sand, and the quantity, you will most likely pay more for this sand than you would Zircon or Chromite. Riverbed sand is a conglomerate of several different sizes and colors and appears red and black. Unless you are unable to get Zircon or Chromite, I would not bother with the riverbed sand.
1.00 pound of Riverbed Sand displaces 190cc vs. 295cc for Play Sand. So, that means Riverbed Sand is 55% heavier than an equal volume of Play Sand.
|Density/Volume Testing and Weight Comparisons|
All four sand varieties mentioned above were tested for volumetric density by weight. Each type of sand was weighed out to 1.00 lbs. on a commercial postal scale. Each 1.00 lb sample of sand was then poured loosely into a 600ml beaker and shaken minimally to level the top surface. This served to determine the volume that the sand occupied.
1.00 pound of sand displaced the following volumes:
Zircon: 149 cc
Chromite: 152 cc
Riverbed sand: 190 cc
Play Sand: 295 cc
How do the density-volume numbers translate to the real world? Here is an estimate of how much each sand would weigh in various sizes of rear bag:
|Standard Bunny Ear Bag
5" by 6" footprint or about 1500cc
Zircon: 10.1 lbs.
Chromite: 9.9 lbs.
Riverbed Sand: 7.9 lbs.
Play Sand: 5.1 lbs.
|Protektor Doctor Bag
6" by 8" footprint or about 2000cc
Zircon: 13.4 lbs.
Chromite: 13.2 lbs.
Riverbed Sand: 10.5 lbs.
Play Sand: 6.8 lbs.
|Seb BigFoot Rear Loaf Bag
6" by 13" footprint or about 3000cc
Zircon: 20.1 lbs.
Chromite: 19.7 lbs.
Riverbed Sand: 15.8 lbs.
Play Sand: 10.2 lbs.
TOPICS: Sand, Heavy Sand, Zircon, Dupont, Chromite, Riverbed Sand, Reptile Sand, Beach Sand, Play Sand, Benchrest, Protektor, Edgewood, SEB, BigFoot, Gator, Docter Bag, Doctor Bag, Loaf Bag, footprint, leather bag, Rear bag, Sand Density, Silica, Exo-Terra, IFS Industries, Sinclair International.
|Conclusions and Recommendations
What's the best choice? For most users, we recommend Chromite. Chromite delivers nearly the same bag weight as Zircon but is more economical to buy. But for those who demand the maximum weight in their sandbag (without consideration of cost), Zircon is the top choice because it is sold at a finer grade (higher density) than Chromite. However, Chromite will save you money, and deliver very nearly the same amount of weight by volume. When purchased in bulk, Chromite is typically 25-30% LESS expensive than Zircon.
I would not suggest using the Riverbed sand unless you really need to fill a sandbag immediately and can't wait to locate a source for either Zircon or Chromite. Keep in mind that Sinclair Int'l and other major mail-order vendors do sell heavy sand (though Zircon and Chromite may be much less expensive when purchased in larger quantities from local industrial sources.) The price of the Riverbed sand will vary quite a bit depending on the pet store and quantity bought. The Riverbed sand I tested, Exo-Terra Reptile sand (photo right), was fairly expensive as purchased at a pet store.
Bottom Line: When it comes time to fill your new rear bag, you may want to save a few dollars and go with Chromite sand, but if you want to gain every bit of weight possible, step up to the Zircon.
IFS Industries, Inc.
Email: Efreiwald [at] ifscos.com
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