Some of the benefits of a dedicated handgun safe are that it offers quick access to the firearm and usually has room for extra magazines and a flashlight (a must for home defense). Companies such as Sentry, Hornady and GunVault offer safes with a variety of locking mechanisms ranging from conventional key and tumbler to RFID chips to biometric fingerprint scanners, and they accommodate a range of budgets.
Over the past two years, I've gathered handgun safes from Sentry, Hornady and GunVault to evaluate their long-term durability and reliability. All the safes are sufficiently robust for their purpose. I was curious how features would stack up against each other, especially considering the price points, and how well the components worked with repeated usage. The last thing you want is your Spidey-sense awakening you from a deep sleep and your safe failing to open.
I also timed how long it took to open each type of lock and noted any hiccups. For this, I approached each safe cold and averaged the first five tries. Any more attempts than this would allow me to establish a rhythm that wouldn't be representative of real-world scenarios.
GunVault NanoVault 200
With 25 years' experience, GunVault is the veteran safe manufacturer of the group, and it shows with their depth of firearm-specific products. The NanoVault 200 is the simplest and most portable handgun safe of their line. The small, lightweight, portable safe can be used at home, in the car and in checked baggage.
The locking mechanism is simple: Insert the key and turn the internal latch to the open position. It has an unassisted hinge that can be opened fully with one hand by leaving the key engaged in the lock as it's flipped open. A dense foam interior protects the firearm from scratches and keeps it in place when transporting.
The lid and base are constructed of 18-gauge steel and weigh 3 pounds jointly with the included security cable, which is rated at 1,500 pounds. Surprisingly, its compact size accommodates a full-size 1911 with two extra magazines and a flashlight.
Over years of use, the interior foam is stained from gun lubricant, but it shows no tears or indentations from previous items. The lock's body is threaded and fastened to the lid by a nut. The lock and latch have remained tight despite years of locking and unlocking. The black finish has minor scuffs but nothing exposing bare metal. The steel cable's vinyl coating has gashes where it has encountered the latch plate but shows no cable fray.
Opening the NanoVault continues to be easy and consistent. Each insertion of the key was positive, and the keyhole was easy to find without fumbling.
SentrySafe Biometric Pistol Safe (small)
SentrySafe occupies the value-priced segment of the safe market, so I was apprehensive that their $200 biometric fingerprint scanner could endure repeated use, especially considering that GunVault's SpeedVault Biometric Safe was more than double its price. By all appearances, the Biometric Pistol Safe is well designed and sturdy. It's battery-powered only, constructed with 12-gauge steel (the thickest steel of the test group), has a pry-resistant lid, soft touch keys and a snappy, single strut that was well designed and sturdy. The fingerprint scanner and keypad code are easy to program, and the interior holds a full-size 1911 with plenty of room for extra magazines and a flashlight.
The jewel of the system is the biometric fingerprint scanner. SentrySafe included a small copper strip above the scanner window, which activates the sensor when touched. There's no need to press a button to turn the sensor on. The unit has an incredibly fast fingerprint recognition system; even flicking my finger over the scanner window opened the safe. Overall, I was amazed at the consistent, reliable readings of the biometric scanner even after two years.
Entering the code by hand is also speedy. I entered a six-digit code as fast as I could, and it didn't overwhelm the onboard processor. The rubber sheath that houses the buttons continues to be soft and pliable, and it remains immediately responsive. All the warning and confirmation lights continue to work like new, and the system accepts new fingerprints and codes effortlessly.
I trust this safe to open in a time of need. In fact, it became my bedside safe shortly after this test.
Hornady Rapid Safe 2700KB
Hornady is the new kid on the block when it comes to safes, but they're bringing the same level of quality and design to this arena as their ammunition. This is the second generation of the Rapid Safe. It's predecessor, the RFID Rapid Safe, was part of my original test bed until a few months ago, but since it was discontinued, I substituted the 2700KP. To bring this safe up to speed in the wear and tear department, I treated it as a baby treats pots and pans, pounding numeric codes in nonstop or waving the RFID tags above the sensor back and forth incessantly.
The new Rapid Safe is a total redesign and is smaller and lighter than the original. It uses a spring-assisted hinge instead of a strut to snap open the safe. It offers three key methods: RFID technology, a numeric keypad and a conventional key. Hornady includes three RFID items with this safe and permits up to five to be assigned to it. RFID items include a key fob, two stickers and a wristband.
The RFID items work best when the unit is attached to the included AC adapter since it keeps the RFID sensor on. Hover your RFID item of choice over the Hornady logo, and the safe pops opens. In battery-powered mode, you need to press the logo to activate the sensor and then hover the RFID tag over it. The tag is located next to the clasp in the wristband and not in the Hornady-branded metal on top.
I initially inserted the sticker inside my cellphone case because I wanted the key to remain discreet, but the sensor couldn't read the RFID tag. I relocated it to the exterior, and it worked perfectly. Peeling off the sticker can break the RFID chip; however, a replacement can be purchased for $3 through Hornady.com.
The keypad buttons offer firm resistance and audible feedback when pressed, but I recommend spending some time learning the rhythm at which the system will accept the numbers. Go too fast and it may not capture the number. Fortunately, the unit resets itself immediately. Because of this, I tested the unit to see if I could freeze it by pressing long strings of the wrong code rapidly and hitting enter, and then immediately entering the correct code. It never tripped up. The safe immediately recovered and accepted the right code. Hornady excellence shines through.
The Rapid Safe has functioned reliably regardless of the key used or the pounding it received. Due to its size, this safe would be great for in the home and a vehicle. In addition, the RFID tag was the zippiest of the bunch.
The SpeedVault Biometric SVB 500 is unique among the group because it's designed to be mounted on the side of a flat surface. It's particularly useful underneath a desk, where it's hidden from view. This makes the biometric fingerprint scanner the perfect technology to unlock the safe because the scanner can't be seen. To open the safe, find the protruding activation button and press it, then slide your finger across the scanner window.
The vault holds one firearm in a padded foam sleeve; I kept a flashlight and an extra magazine in a nearby drawer. When the safe is unlocked, the hatch door plops open using its own weight, and a small light illuminates the pistol for 10 seconds before shutting off.
This one was a little more finicky to open. That's primarily because I have the safe recessed deeply into my desk and can't guide my finger to the precise spot of the scanner. Eighty percent of the time I would swipe my finger correctly; other times it would fail to read. When I deliberately held my finger in one spot and repeatedly scanned it, the safe opened immediately. This tells me that the scanner is not faulty, but the error may be finger positioning. The system recovered quickly for a second pass, which was successful. The safe has been like this from the start and has not deteriorated. This hiccup can be concerning, but altering my finger's path makes the second pass reliable. One can argue that every second counts, but the convenience of having it at my desk (where I spend a lot of time) within arm's reach saves valuable seconds, too. For now, I'll weigh the convenience of proximity as more important than the extra seconds it takes to make another pass.
The safe is attached to a desk that is made of MDF wood. Its weight and jarring openings have not caused the wood screws to pull out or come loose. The safe remains as sturdy as when it was installed.
The pistol safes reviewed will continue to be part of my home-defense plan. Each one serves a purpose and has functioned reliably. The SpeedVault is the only one that I encountered any issues with, but it is consistent and predictable — its convenience outweighs the problem. The most surprising safe of the test was SentrySafe's Biometric Pistol Safe. I was impressed by the scanner's reliability and how easily it opened with a flick of a finger. It's the one key that's impossible to misplace or leave at my girlfriend's house.