If it ain’t safe, it ain’t worth it.
We’ve been to thousand of airsoft games ranging from casual days at the field to tough MILSIM operations and have seen newer players struggle with deciding on the order of safety gear they need for a good day slinging plastic. They also want to do it in a such a way that they’re not spending hundreds of dollars testing whether they like it or not.
The struggle. Is. Real.
We’ve also spent quite a few dollars (a rather embarrassing amount really) on tactical gear. Some to create military unit impressions, some for speed soft, some to high-speed low-drag, and some to be high-drag slow-speed. That’s tons of money going to tons of tactical gear options and we wanted to pass down our experience so new players don’t get burned by the fancy stuff.
So, check out our beginner’s guide to airsoft, then look below as we’re going to lay out what kind of tactical and safety gear to consider and the order a newer player should consider getting them in.
Step 1: Essential Safety Gear
The most important piece of equipment you should consider is safety gear. Whether you’re a younger airsoft player or starting later, the following list should be considered before your first game (and if they aren’t considered yet – DO IT):
- Eye Protection
- Ear Protection
- Mouth Protection
- Shoes / Boots
This is absolutely the barest of minimum safety gear you need to have on you before you head out to the airsoft field. 6mm BB’s might barely crack skin at short range, but your eyes are extremely vulnerable. A solid hit to the eye will likely damage it permanently. Remember, that your opponents are attempting to hit you, so you can expect to be shot at hundreds of times during an airsoft game. You NEED eye protection.
The best eye protection will come in the form of goggles or a full face mask. Some fields and ops will allow standard shooting glasses, but most do not. This is because you’ll need something that creates a full seal around your eyes so a stray BB doesn’t make its way in. It can be tough to balance between full seal and fog, but you can learn how to stop your airsoft goggles from fogging here.
Do NOT even think about using mesh eye protection.
Are you’re considering mesh eye protection goggles? Don’t. They suck and while the chance of a BB shattering on the mesh or breaching it is low, you’re placing your eyesight at a greater risk than you have to. No field I’ve ever been to will allow you in if you choose to wear mesh eye protection.
You’ll want to check with the manufacturer to ensure your goggles are ANZI Z87.1 rated or better. You usually don’t want to skip or go cheap on eye protection as there’s nothing worth getting blinded over.
Further down in this blog we list one option we feel as great for eye protection.
Your ear canals are quite sensitive, and it isn’t entirely unheard of for BB’s to strike your ear or ear canal. For this reason some fields will require that you ears are fully covered. This can be achieved with a full face mask or ear coverings like those used on real steel ranges.
The restrictions on ear protection are a little more lax than those for eye protection. Some fields are okay with ear mesh, while some (especially those where paintball players are playing adjacent to you) will require full ear coverings.
Remember to check with your local airsoft field first to see what their rules are on ear pro.
Mouth / Face Protection
Teethwork is expensive. Dental treatments for a chipped tooth can cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars. You usually have two main offerings for mouth pro:
- Steel Mesh
- Full Face Mask
You find some pros / cons with each. In general, steel mesh masks are more contoured to your face and so it is easier to aim down sights on your airsoft gun. Additionally, some find it easier to breathe through the mesh mask. The main negative to mesh masks is that it can be difficult to get it to play nice with your googles. Sometimes, the mesh has to sit over the googles, or any adjustment to your mesh mask will prevent your eye protection from making a good seal.
Full face masks, or a paintball masks, don’t have the above issues as the google and face protection is all one piece. Paintball masks usually feature full seal googles in addition to mouth and ear protection. They’re really the entire package. The main negative here is that very few full face masks make it easy to look down your sights. This can be solved by either elevating your optics or using a mask like a Dye i4 (and you should – they’re worth EVERY penny).
If you’re thinking about just wearing cloth or something like recon wraps to protect your teeth – just know that they don’t. We do recommend for new players that the best facial safety gear is to have some kind of full face protection.
Shoes / Boots
After all the safety gear that covers the sensitive parts of your face, we think that a good pair of shoes or boots are in order. The main thing here is ensuring you have a set that the footwear should have a ton of traction and be well fitted to your foot. This is one piece of safety gear that is often overlooked.
You should consider reviewing the terrain of the airsoft field you are going to. The more muddy, rocky, or overall uneven the field is, the more important it will be for you to have good footwear. At some of the MILSIM operations we’ve been to players have actually had their foot pierced by nails sticking out from broken wood.
Indoor fields have a tendency to be completely flat concrete and so becomes a little less important to have something with high traction.
The vast majority of injuries I’ve seen on the airsoft field include twisted and sprained ankles.
Any injury to your ankle will put you out for a long time preventing you from playing in order activities as well. Our main breakdown of what to look for in a good boot or shoe is:
- Comfort – Does it fit well? Blisters really suck and a well fitted shoe will help prevent them.
- Traction – How well does it adhere to rough surfaces? A slip can result in an injury.
- Secure Fitment – Will any of the straps or laces get loose as you run?
- Easy Access – is it easy to get in and out of?
- Color – you’ll want to stick to earth tones like greens or browns, a yellow/blue boot might give you away.
In general, we found that you don’t have to go with the most high speed looking military combat boot. A good pair of hiking boots are probably all you honestly need.
Below we’ve included a number of boots that have worked well for us:
Barrel Sock / Barrel Cover
Almost every single field we’ve ever visited has required some kind of barrel shroud over your airsoft guns barrels. This is similar to the ones used in paintball (and in fact, the paintball ones work great). They are the very last line of safety in the case of a negligent discharge in the loading zone. Often, players will not have their face protection or safety gear on in the safe zones, and so a discharge here could be dangerous.
Step 2: Secondary Safety Gear
The next set of tactical gear to consider is those that protect the more sensitive areas of your body, like your fingers, knees or that flabby part of your sides. The comfort and security built from these particular pieces of tactical gear, we found, can increase your willingness to get a bit more immersed and allow you to do those fun tacticool things more easily.
After all, putting an unprotected knee down on a sharp rock even one time will make you adverse (even if its a bit subconscious) to trying that again, even if taking a knee is a fairly routine movement.
Protecting your knees is actually a bit undervalued. Your knees have to take quite a pounding, as you’re going to be sprinting, stopping, and running quite a bit. We always recommend a good set of knee pads that:
- Don’t fall down to your ankles under use
- Have a tough shell
- Are well fitted to be comfortable and not cut off circulation
Some of the more advanced combat pants will actually have the kneepad integrated – which is SUPER comfortable – and pricey.
I was an airsoft player once… then I took a bb to the knee.
Speaking from experience, even knee pads in an indoor field is recommended as throwing your knee down on a set of BBs unusually painful (similar to how stepping on Legos suck).
We’ve used quite a few knee pads throughout our airsoft career and some of the ones below we’d recommend:
Getting shot on the fingers suck, especially on the knuckles. Since your airsoft gun is usually exposed in an airsoft match, it is not uncommon for you to take BB rounds to the fingers. Having a nice protective layer here helps reduce potential pain, but there are other benefits as well.
Having something over your fingers also protects it from splinters and cuts from the terrain. We’ve found that playing airsoft in the woods will often require you to interact with sharp branches and foliage, and having the gloves on helps ensure that you won’t get bitten by wildlife or bugs too!
However, there’s a balance to be hit, as gloves that are TOO protective actually will make it more difficult for you to interact with your gear. Getting a zipper open or stuffing a magazine into a dump pouch gets a lot harder as your gloves snag on your gear. Additionally, it becomes more difficult to perform fine motor skills without the sensory indicators you’d have with your bare hands.
Read our guide on the best airsoft gloves currently available.
Here’s a few of our top choices for airsoft gloves:
Let’s be clear that there’s a difference between body armor and load bearing equipment. Body armor has effectively one goal and that is to reduce damage or pain to your body. Load bearing gear is designed to help you carry equipment, like magazines, dead rags, batteries, etc. Some tactical gear, like vests and plate carriers, will effectively do both.
In terms of safety – we’ll first look at body armor.
We used to look down on those who wore body armor for the sake of reducing the pain from BB hits. However, after 10+ years in the sport we’ve come to realize that sometimes having that layer of protection is what allows players more sensitive to pain to come out and play airsoft. Additionally, it also increases the threshold for players looking to play more aggressively, which results in more fun matches.
I’m sure we’ve all been in that one match where conservative or skittish players would stay in their backfield lobbing BB rounds out at targets far beyond effective range. Sometimes, having this layer of protection helps give them courage to move up – and that’s a win as far as we’re concerned.
Here’s one protective body armor we’d recommend (keep on reading if you’re more interested in tactical vests or plate carriers). In fact, we often run a slick carrier (another word for body armor) along with chest rigs or battle belts for airsoft for our games.
- [Adjustable Waist belt]-Vest size: 39x51cm/15.3x20.1in. Waist belt:74-114cm/29in-44in. The shoulder straps and waist strap...
- [Product Material]-600D Oxford fabric,it is of high quality, durable and can protect you from being hurt in games.
- [Protection]-Foam padded to give you a better protection in games.
Tactical Vests / Plate Carriers
Now this is where a large number of players will spend their money in terms of protective gear. This is because the plate carrier or tactical vest plays a big part of the “look” of a realistic military unit. You can break down tactical vests or plate carriers into two main categories:
- Non customizable
Customizable gear usually has PALS or MOLLE webbing weaved into the carrier – this is fairly standard for modern armed forces. This webbing allows you to buy your own pouches and you can customize the location of your pouches. This is great for those who want to test out different configurations to see what works best for them.
Non customizable, in contrast, will already have these pouches sewn in. Usually, this ends up being less expensive than picking up those same pouches and adding them on via MOLLE webbing. However, the inability to customize will mean that if you don’t like the location of a pouch, well you’re stuck with it.
One nice advantage with non customizable tactical vests is that they often are a bit more inexpensive than picking up the standard plate carrier plus factoring in the costs of the same pouches. Additionally, you’ll find that most tactical gear made for children will not be customizable.
Typically we recommend going the customizable route, as what we found is that even users who buy a non-custom vest end up going the custom route down the line. Here’s our guide on airsoft vs real plate carriers – learn the differences.
Here we have some good starting options:
Keep in mind that the recommendations above are for starter / intermediate airsoft players. If your plan is to go big or go home (buy once, cry once) then there are other higher end plate carrier options for you.
Conclusion: Don’t skimp on safety gear
The last thing you want to happen is for you to get injured on the field. Not only is your day ruined, but then the field itself has to reassess what it is doing and that might mean more strict rules for everyone.
So, don’t go cheap on your safety gear, it is better to overspend here and stay safe than it is to pick up one of the cool looking airsoft guns and get blinded down the line.
For more in depth information on how to get build on your beginner airsoft loadout check out our article.
Eventually, you’ll get to the point where you can start creating specific impression loadouts for airsoft (like a PMC airsoft loadout) or grabbing a ghillie suit for a sniper loadout.
We have new article on how to build a SWAT loadout for airsoft.
Related Article: After you’ve picked up the essential airsoft safety gear, be sure to check out the best beginner airsoft guns buying guide.