Part of the fun in casual paintballing is in dressing up. Whether you’re just rolling up to your friend’s backyard in black-on-black clothing or showing up to a big field ready to re-enact a battle, choosing a distinct style can be far more enjoyable than using worn-out hoodies and jeans. While most clothing items are acceptable for paintball play, there is one item that I get asked about that needs special consideration: the gas mask.
Gas Masks for Paintball?
Gas masks can complete a paintball loadout and give you a hardcore mil-sim aesthetic or a throwback to past conflicts. At first glance, a gas mask can also seem like a great way to get face protection without spending big money on a stellar item like the Dye i5. However, wearing a gas mask out to the field can be a dangerous mistake for the reasons I am about to explain.
The most important reason you should not wear an ordinary gas mask out to the field is that they generally do not come with ballistic protection. Even high-quality modern military masks like the A4 Forsheda lack standard impact ratings. This is because the gas mask is already bulky and uncomfortable with the essential gas-blocking components, and impact-resistant materials would make the user experience much worse.
If you were to get shot in the face by a paintball while wearing one of these masks, you would not receive any meaningful protection. An impact on the rubber portions would hit your face with full force and possibly even tear the material apart. An impact on the eyepieces could shatter the glass or polymer materials inside it, sending shards of broken glass into your eyes. These devices protect against gaseous attacks, not high-velocity objects.
Theoretically, you could replace the lens materials in a rigid polymer gas mask to create an impact-resistant functional gas mask. However, unless you already know a great deal about ballistic rating and materials, I would advise against doing that. I have seen plenty of people on the field with jerry-rigged equipment that falls apart – if this were to happen to their face protection, they could lose an eye.
Imitation Gas Masks
So, if gas masks lack the protection necessary for paintball face coverings, what should you do? Luckily, you are far from the only person who wants to complete their aesthetic like this. Products exist that provide the full protection of a standard paintball mask while copying the aesthetic of popular military devices like the M-15 gas mask. They even include fake filters that, depending on the model, can have some extra functions added on.
I don’t personally own one, but my friend recommends his Jade dragon mask with exhaust fans. Not only is this option relatively inexpensive, but it also uses the fake air filters to house fans for ventilation. The mask fogs up more than a high-end paintball mask would, but less than most other lower-priced products. He has taken many shots to the face wearing this one, and it seems no worse for the wear after over a year of on-and-off usage.
Completing the Look
A gas mask alone may look pretty silly on the field. If you show up with a hoodie and jeans with that thing on, you’re going to look like a newbie scraping together hand-me-down gear. If you’re spending the money on a themed paintball mask, then it is essential to expand on that style.
Wearing actual hazmat gear may not be the best idea. These garments are made of polymer materials that trap heat and moisture inside, which is a nightmare for summertime paintball play. Civilian hazmat garments are often thin and brightly colored, making them unsuitable for outdoor events and subpar for indoor arenas. Military CBRN equipment may be durable and patterned in camouflage, but wearing that stuff for longer than five minutes is practically torture.
Instead of all that, I recommend modifying a windbreaker or rain shell. These are often made with materials like Gore-Tex that are considerably more breathable than a solid polymer sheet. I recommend picking up a surplus Army rain shell and pairing it with some black rubber boots and gloves from a hardware store.
Alternatively, a gas mask goes well with any military outfit. Whether you’re wearing new military gear or some 40-year-old surplus from Yugoslavia, a gas mask never looks out of place with militaria.
Gas masks are cool but not always the safest thing to wear out on the field. I prefer to wear a standard mask with my militaria, but I understand wanting something more. If you feel that way, then an imitation gas mask may be the right choice for you. Just make sure to get a high-quality ballistic mask specifically made for paintball.