Paintball is a competitive team shooting sport that really gets your adrenaline pumping. You can play it in a number of different settings, both indoor and outdoor, and a number of different “game modes”.
That being said, it can be pretty painful to get hit with a paintball without the proper protective gear. The paintballs explode on impact largely due to the velocity at which they are propelled out of the paintball guns.
If they don’t burst, you can a pretty serious bruise. But, even if they burst, they can still leave pretty nasty bruises.
This article will walk you through all of your protective gear options to ensure you have a safe and positive experience playing paintball.
Each section will outline a few different choices depending on how much protection you want and ultimately how much you are willing to spend.
Let’s get into it.
- Bounce cap
Helmets offer the most head protection you can get. They cover your entire head and are completely solid, so you will barely know you got hit.
The helmet offers such exceptional protection that you will actually prefer to get shot in the head versus anywhere else on your body.
On top of covering your entire head, some models come with built-in masks, which is a huge bonus and possibly a money-saver depending on which helmet you choose.
You can find solid helmet options for as low as $30. Any helmet will offer you more than adequate protection since you are only being hit with paintballs.
The pricier options are primarily for aesthetics more than anything else, so it is entirely based on your taste and budget at that point.
Bounce caps are a great next option if you do not want to opt for the bulkier helmet option.
They look very similar to a cross between baseball caps and your everyday beanie. The only difference is, they have plastic padding on the inside to give you that added protection if you are shot in the head.
Bounce caps are strictly for head protection and nothing else. They spread the impact of the paintball out so that your skull is not absorbing all of it.
Bounce caps quite literally help the paintballs “bounce” off your head rather than allowing you to absorb all the impact.
Beanies can be a huge plus if you are playing paintball outdoors in the cold. It’s also the cheapest option as, chances are, you already have one at home.
However, they don’t offer much protection, unless you have a really thick one.
Headbands provide the least amount of protection out of the four options for head protection. And, they do not protect the top or the back of the head at all.
They focus solely on protecting direct headshots coming from in front and to the side of you.
This is an important factor to consider if you are playing a more tactical game mode where opponents can get to higher ground as this will expose the top and back of your head a lot more.
However, a plus to wearing a paintball headband is that the material also helps to absorb sweat and keep it from running into your eyes while you play, and it’s very comfortable to play with in hot weather.
- Full paintball mask
- Goggles with a half-face mask
- Goggles with balaclava and mouth protection
Full Paintball Mask
A full paintball mask is definitely your best option for maximum face protection. The full mask comes with built-in eye protection and is completely sealed so that no paint gets through.
The whole unit is well ventilated, so it rarely fogs up, allowing you to have the clearest vision at all times. It is important to note that most indoor facilities will require you to have a full face mask in order to participate.
(Check out the best paintball masks that don’t fog up – in a new tab.)
Of all the face protection options, this would be the most expensive one. Again, the prices range from about $30 to well over $100 for the much fancier ones. It all depends on your taste and your budget.
Goggles With A Half-Face Mask
Goggles and a half mask is usually a go-to facial protection setup for outdoor games. This combination does not entirely cover every part of your face, but it protects the vital parts like your eyes, nose, and mouth very well.
You do not want to use regular chemistry goggles or construction glasses as they are not made to withstand impacts as high as what a paintball gun will do. You will also ideally want goggles that have thermal lenses—specifically for paintball.
Thermal lenses do not fog up like your standard ski goggles would, for instance. As for the half mask, one made out of the same hard plastic material as the helmet or the full face mask is your safest bet protection-wise.
Mesh masks are another option, and although they are more breathable and arguably more comfortable, they offer much less protection.
Goggles With Balaclava And Mouth Protection
Goggles with a balaclava and mouth protection is probably the least common protective option for facial covering. They leave your nose and a lot of your face exposed, so getting hit with a paintball there would leave a nasty bump.
The mouth guard is a steel grill that you would insert under the balaclava mask. It protects your jaw, mouth, and teeth from the impact of a paintball.
Again, this face-covering combination dramatically increases your risk of facial injury. It is the cheapest of all the options, but that inevitably comes with more risks and downfalls.
- Paintball neck protector
- Hockey neck protector
Paintball Neck Protector
A paintball neck protector will be your best bet for maximum protection. It is a well-padded, neck brace-looking thing that covers your entire neck and throat.
If you are looking to make sure you do not leave with any injuries to your neck or throat, this is the option for you. There are certain downfalls, however, specifically for the avid paint-ballers.
Most non-beginners complain that this neck protector feels too rigid and limits movement too much. They also say that it gets way too hot, especially in the summer months playing outside.
Although the chances of getting hit in the neck are slim, the choice ultimately depends on what you value most; comfort or protection.
A shemagh is probably the next best option if you are looking for a good balance between safety and comfort.
For those who do not know, a shemagh (also known as a keffiyeh) is a traditional Arabian scarf usually made of cotton and common throughout the middle-east.
The reason a shemagh is a good neck protection option is because of the layers of loose fabric. Compared to a balaclava—which is one thin layer relatively close to the skin—a shemagh will provide more padding if hit with a direct shot.
Using a scarf or a bandana is a good alternative to the shemagh if you are not willing to spend more money. Chances are, you already have one of these somewhere in your home.
Even if you don’t, a folded-up t-shirt tied around your neck will do the trick. The only difference is a shemagh will be larger and can also cover some of your head.
Hockey Neck Protector
A hockey neck protector can also provide some protection. It is the least sought after of these four options because it is thinner and tight-fitting, absorbing much less impact.
Since it is not loose, it might be uncomfortable to wear and still hurt quite a bit if you hit in that area with a paintball. If a hockey neck protector is all you have access to, then it is better than nothing.
Upper Body Protection
- Tactical vest/armored shirt
- Puffer jacket
- Fleece jacket
Tactical Vest/Armored Shirt
The tactical vest or armored shirt will easily provide you with the most protection and most comfort due to its lightweight and sturdy padding.
Several paintball shirts come with padding, but you can also use motorcycle wear as that also includes padding and will absorb the impacts. Once again, it depends on how much you are willing to invest in the sport.
A puffer jacket is an excellent home-alternative as it is thick enough to absorb the paintball’s impact, and it is also straightforward to clean.
It would get warm wearing something like that in the summer or indoors, but it is an excellent option for playing in the cold.
A poncho is an option strictly because it is loose-fitting and will absorb a lot of the impact. It is not as protective as the armor vests or puffer jacket for direct hits, but it does the job if you are in a pinch.
A fleece jacket is a good last resort option. They are not as thick or loose-fitting as the previous options, but they provide you with a bit of extra padding, so you are not leaving with massive bruises all over your torso.
They are difficult to clean, so make sure you use one that you don’t mind getting dirty.
- Armored gloves
- Tactical gloves
- Fingerless work gloves
Armored gloves are gloves with padding on the back protecting your fingers and knuckles. These will be the best choice if you want to make sure you don’t injure your hands.
The padding will absorb most of the impact. Armored gloves are probably the only gloves that provide maximum protection and are thin enough to use your paintball gun properly.
Tactical gloves, like the brand Mechanix, for example, cover your entire hand and fingers and have some extra cushioning to help with the impact.
There isn’t much padding compared to the armored gloves, but it can be enough to disperse the paintball’s impact and minimize injury.
Fingerless Work Gloves
Fingerless work gloves are similar to tactical gloves, but they leave your fingers exposed. It comes down to preference once again and how much protection you want.
These will protect your knuckles, but your fingers become fair game for serious injury.
Lower Body Protection
- Football/slide shorts
- Knee pads
Football/slide shorts are great to wear under a thicker pair of pants. They have built-in padding, so most of the impact is absorbed when paired with jeans or cargo pants.
The thicker pants also protect you from cuts and bruises when sliding and diving—especially outdoors.
Knee pads are great for sliding protection and protecting from paintball shots to the knee. You tend to crouch to hide in paintball games, so this just provides extra comfort there as well.
A cup, jockstrap, or any groin protection is not required but is recommended. You can easily fit a foam pad in the football or slide shorts if they don’t already have one. Worst case, you can fold up a small towel or hockey sock for a little extra padding.
- Football/lacrosse cleats
- Hiking/hunting boots
- Trail running shoes
Football/lacrosse cleats give you the proper grip you need and provide good ankle support when running around.
Getting shot in the foot is very rare, so padding is not essential. The only downfall is that cleats will quickly get wet outdoors.
Hiking/hunting boots are great if you are looking for grip and a little bit of extra padding (especially playing outdoors with rocks and twigs).
They also provide good ankle support and go up above the ankle, which will protect you from scratches and paintballs.
Trail Running Shoes
Trail running shoes will not provide you with as much grip or ankle support, but most people already own a pair, so they do the job well enough. However, if playing outside and it’s wet or muddy, these will not keep your feet dry.
Hopefully, this article makes deciding what paintball gear to buy a lot easier for you.
There are many options for each area of the body. All you need to do now is decide how much protection you want, how comfortable you want to be, and finally, how much you want to spend.