Your paintball mask (often referred to as a paintball
goggle) is the single most important piece of paintball equipment you will own.
You can go out on the paintball field
without a marker, but not without a mask! There are a variety of paintball
masks to choose from in a wide range of lens styles, coverage and fit. This
guide will help you make an informed decision.
In the early days of paintball players used typical shop or
ski goggles while playing. THIS IS UNSAFE! Eventually the industry began making
paintball-specific goggles and now must pass ASTM approval for use. All
paintball goggles have these four components: a goggle lens, a goggle frame, a
protective mask, and a goggle strap.
Paintball Goggle Lens
A paintball goggle lens is typically made of Lexan or other
polycarbonate material for strength and shatter resistance. The lens fits securely
within the goggle frame to protect the eyes from both impact and paint spray.
Depending on the mask model, a lens may be flat and curved or of a bubble
design for varying degrees of peripheral and vertical vision, fit, and clarity.
Most lenses are coated with an anti-glare and scratch resistant material.
A paintball goggle lens comes as either a single pane or
dual pane lens. A single pane lens is a one piece design that has an anti-fog coating
cured onto it. Single lenses are easier to maintain and clean but are not as
good at resisting fogging. Dual pane lenses, often referred to as thermal
paintball lenses, consist of a thicker outer lens and a thinner inner lens
connected by an airtight foam or rubber gasket glued between them. The air
trapped between the lens insulates the inner lens for the best anti-fog
protection available. The downside to a thermal lens is the care required in
cleaning and maintenance. The inner lens is softer and more prone to scratching
if you do not use a microfiber cloth, and you cannot dunk them in water to
clean as water will get between the lens and permanently fog.
A paintball goggle frame is what the lens fits into. Sometimes the goggle frame and mask are all one piece. A
goggle frame has either a fixed lens or a quick release lens system. A quick release lens system is far more
convenient than a fixed one for cleaning and maintaining your paintball mask,
but are more complex to manufacture so they increase the cost. The goggle frame foam is what makes contact
with your face while wearing. It is important that this foam forms a good seal,
to prevent your warm exhaled breath from rising up under the lens to fog it up.
The foam is also important for comfort. Lower cost mask typically have more
rigid foam while better masks have thicker, softer material. Premium masks often have dual layer foam, with
one layer thicker providing comfortable support while the other is soft against
the face and absorbs sweat better.
The mask portion of the goggle is what will protect your
face from impact. Different paintball masks offer varying degrees of protection
and other attributes. There is no ‘perfect’ paintball mask; consider your
playing style and level of competition.
The first thing to consider is how much overall coverage do
you want? Beginner and recreational paintball masks tend to be larger to fit
more people, and have more overall surface area, especially along the jaw line,
forehead, and larger ear sections. Players at this level tend to prefer more
coverage at the expense of increased weight. Tournament players, on the other
hand, are trying to reduce as much of their target profile as possible. High
end paintball masks are more streamlined, sit closer to the face, and generally
offer as much coverage as needed to meet field requirements. Thus, tournament
masks often leave the bottom of the chin, jawline and forehead exposed on players
with large heads and wide faces.
What is the mask made out of? Recreational masks are
typically constructed of solid or semi-rigid plastic. This offers the ultimate
in impact protection from direct paintball hits, especially from close range.
The downside to this is a heavy mask that doesn’t flex at all, and can be quite
jarring when bumping your head into things on the field. Tournament masks tend
to be made of softer, pliable material. This makes them more comfortable in the
rigors of the game and promotes a paintball to potentially bounce instead of
break. However, these masks also flex under the impact of a close range hit, so
you will still experience the discomfort of a direct hit. Tournament players
consider this a good trade-off for a potential game-changing bounce that keeps
them on the field. Many mid-range masks are a hybrid of the two; they feature a
rigid upper section with a softer lower section. They flex with impact but still absorb the
effect. These masks are especially popular with milsim players who use shoulder
stocks, so the jawline conforms to the face when aiming.
Consider the type of ear coverage a mask has. Those with
soft ear pieces are streamlined and comfortable but do little to absorb the
uncomfortable impact of a close range shot. Hard ear pieces can be harder to
hear out of and present a hard, non-bouncing target but absorb all impact
energy. Take a look at the ventilation holes. The more holes, the easier to
breathe and project your voice, at the expense of eating more nasty-tasting
paint and shell when shot in the mouth area.
The strap is often overlooked when choosing a paintball
mask. All goggle straps are elastic for a snug fit when on your head. The
better straps on the market have several beads of silicone along the inside so
that the sizing sliders will grip and stay put. If your strap does not have
these then you will have to readjust throughout the day. High end masks often
have a toothed clamp to hold the adjustment in place.
Full Head Paintball Mask
A separate category is the full head paintball goggle
system. These are typically a current model mask with the additional of a
complete helmet section that is permanent or removable. The best ones are made
of flexible material that is rigid enough to efficiently absorb impact, yet
pliable enough to comfortably conform to the shape of your head. Full
headshield paintball masks can get hot and stuffy to wear but they offer
unparalleled protection so you can play with ultimate confidence. They are
especially popular for use on youth players and adults whose careers are not
suited to showing up to work Monday morning looking like you played paintball
over the weekend! Because of the increased heat and condensation from the full
head coverage, a thermal lens is recommended for these masks.