I get the most questions about rifles. A biathlon rifle is a .22 caliber rifle, with mechanical sights, five shot magazines, and a form of bolt action. No optical sights are allowed. Often biathlon rifles will also have snow covers for sights and the end of the barrel, to keep snow out. Rifles are outfitted with a hand stop and sling for shooting prone, and a backpack harness for wearing the rifle while skiing. Trigger weight must be more than 500 grams, and the rifle must be heavier than 3.5 kilograms.

Currently I divide rifles I see at races into three groups based on price range: entry, amateur, and olympic. Often clubs already have rifles that you can use, find a club near you and ask. The downside of using a club rifle is that it may not fit you well (especially if you're left handed) and might not be sighted for you during a race.

The common entry market rifle is the marlin 2000 modified for biathlon. There is a kit which adds a backpack sling and magazine carrier. I'm not sure if Marlin is still selling the 2000 model. Find a dealer from their web site. If not, it's likely you could find one from the biathlon community.

The most common amateur rifle that I've seen lately is the Baikal 7 made by Ishmash in Russia. This rifle has been selling in the US for about $1000 US. If has a quick level bolt for fast reloading. Compared to the olympic rifles this one is a great value. Anshutz sells a 1451 model biathlon rifle in this price range as well, though I haven't seen any at events. Let me know if you have any experience with them.

The king of the olympic rifles is the Anshutz Fortner biathlon rifle. By far the majority of the world class athletes use this rifle or the barrel from this rifle with another action like the Baikal. Unfortunately this will cost you about $4000 US with the basic accessories. I noticed a few athletes on the German team using lever action rifles from Krico or Suhl as well. The lever action rotates the grip to reload.

Dealers for these rifles:

  • Champion Shooters in Ohio
  • Larson in Norway

    Accessories and Ammunition

    Rifles don't always come with all the necesssary accessories, make sure to ask what you're getting. Anshutz rifles don't usually come with a rear sight for example and you'll need to buy that separately.

    Biathlon magazines hold five rounds, and most will have additional space for carrying three more rounds which can be removed manually from the bottom. The five round limit is important for safety, so an athlete doesn't accidentally ski with a loaded magazine. The extra rounds can be removed manually and are in case of a misfire and as extra shots in the relay format race.

    Biathletes buy expensive ammunition, though there's no rule for which manufacturer is best. Common mythology is that certain rifles shoot certain brands of ammunition better than others, so you should try different types and see what works for you. I recommend ammunition from Eley, Fiocci, and Federal. Do not buy super-sonic ammunition, as you'll damage the metal targets. Super-sonic is actually less accurate at the biathlon shooting distances anyway. Make sure to buy sub-sonic. Expect to pay between 10 cents to 25 cents US per round for competition quality ammunition. I train with middle of the road quality ammunition as a result, and save the good stuff for races.

    Skis and Poles

    Biathletes use standard cross-country skating skis, but world class athletes will have a complement of different stiffness skis and multiple pairs of each to try different waxes before the race. I just have one pair of racing skis and high end race skis cost up to $800 with bindings. Poles are getting super light thanks to carbon fiber and the ultra light weight poles cost up to $600 US but amateurs can get by with heavier. No need for special pole straps, the regular loop kind are fine to get in and out of during the race, though alternatives are offered.

    Boot manufacturers match their boots with bindings for the skis. Once you buy a particular binding you're stuck with those brand of boots. Figure out which boot fits best for you before picking a binding. Some folks like the new Pilot boots which have an additional connection to the binding but I can't vouch for them personally. If your ankles pronate, you can have a small shim installed when the binding is bolted to the ski to compensate for that. You can also get custom inserts made for your boots. Boots and bindings are up to $600 US.

    Wax is a whole web site topic to itself. You can really get into custom grinds, wax technique, and types of waxes. When you're ready for that, check out some of the cross country ski web sites for further research. Good luck.

    Winter Clothing

    During a race I generate a lot of heat, but some races occur just above freezing temperatures. Race clothing is usually designed with lycra and spandex to ensure you look like a ski geek... and so you're wind efficient. You can buy a separate top and pants or a one piece suit. Don't forget the matching jacket and warmup pants to look cool before the start of the race.

    Pick gloves wisely. During a biathlon race you'll need to remove your poles, load your rifle, and pull a trigger. You may also adjust sights and open and close snow covers. Pick a pair of gloves that will let you do all these things easily but still stay warm. Some athletes cut a small hole in one glove so they can pull their trigger finger out for shooting. The extra sensitivety of having their finger exposed is important to them. If you watch world cup races you'll see them do this as they ski into the range, one by one biting down on a finger of one glove to pull out the finger.

    Goggles are handy for sunny days but you'll want a pair which you can slide up onto your forehead to get out of the way while shooting. The goggles which have elastic headbands seem to work well for this, since they'll hold them in place against your forehead. Regular sunglasses are a pain since there's no good place to put them while shooting.

    Expect to pay a couple hundred dollars US for all of this, plus some for good polypro socks and thin long underwear if you don't already have those.

    Summer Equipment

    Summer biathlon is much easier on a budget, since you probably already own a pair of running shoes. The rifles don't require a backpack harness, since summer biathlon never carries them on the back. Snow covers are not needed either, but those usually come with the rifle automatically.

  • click for full sized

    Marlin 2000

    Anshutz 1451

    Baikal 7

    Anshutz Fortner

    Anshutz rear sight

    Front snowcover

    Lycra top

    Lycra one piece

    Goggles with strap