Starting Airsoft -
So you’ve decided Airsoft is the sport/hobby for you, well firstly congratulations and welcome! If you’ve stumbled upon this and you’re wondering what Airsoft is then let me tell you. Airsoft is an honour based combat simulation sport, born in Japan in the 70’s. The basics of Airsoft are this, players use replica weapons to fire small plastic ball bearings (BBs) at other consenting players in a generally military setting. Honesty, integrity, skill, fitness, determination and a sense of humour are all very important parts of Airsoft. From small games of capture the flag with 20 or so players to full scale military operations with over 100 players battling each other to achieve objectives in real time military scenarios, so if that is what you want then you only need to take a few small steps and join in! A fantastic new player’s guide that I read when I started can be found here http://www.ukapu.org…ide-to-airsoft/
Now before you spend hours and hours on the internet deciding what gun you want and rushing out and buying it I do need to explain the law regarding the purchase of Airsoft guns. In 2007 the Violent Crime Reduction Act (VCRA) came into effect restricting the sale of realistic looking firearms among other regulations. Most Airsoft guns are classed as Realistic Imitation Firearms (RIFs) and under the law you cannot be sold a RIF without a valid defence such as an Airsoft Skirmisher. There are a number of interpretations as to what a skirmisher is. The most commonly accepted and safe method of becoming one is to attend 3 games at the same skirmish site over a time period of more than 2 months (so all 3 games can’t be within 2 months). Once you have done this, you may become a member of that skirmish site. Once you have become a member of a skirmish site you can register your details with the United Kingdom Airsoft Retailers Association (UKARA) once registered with UKARA your details can be checked by any member of UKARA to check you have a valid defence. If you decide that you would like a replica straight away then you can, in legal terms it is classed as an Imitation Firearm (IF) but it will be coloured at least 51% a bright colour to differentiate it from a real firearm. If you then become a member of a site or establish yourself a valid defence then you can remove the paint or changed coloured parts to the original intended colour. This is known as manufacturing a RIF. Under 18’s cannot legally purchase either a RIF or an IF. Under 18’s can however be gifted an IF or if the person who is gifting has a valid defence then he/she can gift a RIF. If you are under 18 and have been gifted an IF you can still attain a defence and manufacture an IF into a RIF but please remember to check with your local skirmish site before you undertake anything.
Before you attend your first skirmish you need to find the closest one to you! Using this map you can find the closest sites to you. http://www.airsoftmap.net/
Once you’ve decided which skirmish you want to go to, you might be again eyeing up guns on the internet and maybe you’ve even joined a few forums to look for ideas. Well I’ll be honest, stop! There are a few things you need to buy or at least have organised before the purchase of your replica!
A good pair of boots I feel are a must for Airsoft, and a requirement for some sites. The main reason for this is that Airsoft in general doesn’t take place on nice flat fields, it tends to happen in woodlands or in quarries even if you’re really lucky an abandoned factory or nuclear bunker! So plenty of trips, falls and stumbles waiting to happen, so good ankle support is a must to save you from a trip to A&E and a very painful end to your day! Ankle injuries are the most common injury in Airsoft, less than football and rugby, but still a risk when out on the field and even if you still have a fall and twist your ankle without the support of a good pair of boots you may have been looking at a dislocation, torn tendon or even a broken ankle! Personally I think for a first pair of boots you cannot go wrong with a pair of British military combat assault boots, widely available on the internet and in surplus stores around the UK. A few key points:-
Value for money, a pair of assault boots well looked after will last for years!
Waterproof, tough and good ankle support.
For the UK and with the different weather conditions we experience, for a first pair of boots I cannot recommend them enough, now if you get a brand new pair they do require some breaking in, but more importantly a good pair of socks! Along with many others, my feet are prone to blisters so I wear 1000 mile socks which help with reducing friction. Next on your shopping list should be some Zinc Oxide tape to prevent blisters.
When you have purchased your boots and you’re at home put on the socks you plan on wearing and your boots and although this may sound daft; go for a walk for about 10 minutes, trying to go up and down as my hills as you can. If you feel parts of your feet starting to get hot, these are called Hotspots. Hotspots notoriously become blisters. Once you know where your Hotspots are you can apply a layer of Zinc Oxide tape onto your skin next time you wear your boots and that should help you remain blister free. Never put Zinc Oxide tape onto a blister that has already formed or is part formed because if you do, when you come to remove it you’ll take all the skin with it! Blisters are actually a huge problem and they can put an end to you day as quickly as a bad sprain – for more information on blisters please see http://www.nhs.uk/co…troduction.aspx
Eye and Face Protection
The most important piece of Airsoft equipment you can purchase is in fact your eye protection. We as humans are hugely dependant on our eyesight and to lose out on your vision would be life changing. With that in mind, one place not to scrimp and save is eye protection so without further ado I will show you the main types of eye protection and their pros and cons. All lenses should conform to at least EN 166 3 F. Though I recommend EN 166 1 A for Airsoft
The following website explains British safety lens standards http://www.nothingbutsafetyglasses.com/advice/standards
Ballistic or Shooting Glasses
Ballistic or shooting glasses are commonly worn by members of the military on operations or Real Steel (A term that refers to actual firearms or equipment) to protect the users eyes from weapon and ammunition malfunctions, Mil Spec (Military Specification) Ballistic glasses are also designed to better protect the user from debris and shrapnel from explosions. Most pairs of ballistic or shooting glasses will come with different tinted lenses so you can choose the appropriate one for you. The advantages to ballistic and shooting glasses are that they are low profile and fit close to the face and provide complete protection from projectiles. With most ballistic or shooting glasses there are gaps between the edge of the lens and your face so in theory a BB could get in there but it will be robbed of most of its momentum so unlikely to cause any damage other than the superficial kind; but there are always unfortunate incidents that brake these rules of thumb. As with most lenses fogging can be an issue but most Mil Spec glasses are designed with the knowledge that the user will be sweating as long as you allow air to pass freely past the lens it shouldn’t fog up, if it does DO NOT REMOVE! Take a knee and stay still for a couple of minutes, this should allow the fog to clear. Head back to the safe zone then remove once it is safe to do so. Use an anti-fog solution or if you don’t have any handy an old diver’s trick of saliva will suffice. If you’re wearing a cap or helmet try removing it to improve airflow. Prices of ballistic or shooting glasses can range from as little as £20 but go all the way up to the £200 range. Please remember when buying from outside the UK to check the tested standards conform to at least EN166 3 F. If you are unsure then contact the seller and if you are in any doubts at all, then do not buy! A pair of ‘safety’ or ‘ballistic’ glasses that shatter on impact can create just as much injury as the projectile itself.
Goggles display different characteristics to ballistic or shooting glasses, firstly they form a full seal around the face normally with foam or rubber and are held in place with a headband rather than arms. As long as they are classified to the correct standard again EN166 3 F. Any type of goggles can be purchased from Mil Spec to Paintball – as long as they conform to the standards then there is no reason they cannot be used for Airsoft. Though they offer better protection around the sides because of the full seal goggles can be prone to fogging again if it does DO NOT REMOVE! Take a knee and stay still for a couple of minutes, this should allow the fog to clear. Head back to the safe zone then remove once it is safe to do so. Again, use an anti-fog solution or if you don’t have any handy an old diver trick of saliva will suffice. If you’re wearing a cap or helmet try removing it to improve airflow.
As an Airsoft only alternative to goggles and glasses steel mesh is a viable option. With steel mesh there is no risk of fogging as there is no lens so to speak, the protective barrier is formed by steel which is perforated to enable the user to see out from. There is however a drawback to this, if a BB strikes the mesh and splinters, those splinters may end up in the eye and cause some damage. Another disadvantage is that they have no industry standard testing unlike ballistic glasses and goggles. The only material that should be used for eye protection is high quality stamped steel which can be pricey, so if the price of the item does not reflect this then you should ask yourself “Is this worth my eyesight?” Woven steel mesh is not appropriate for eye protection and should not be purchased.
Most players under the age of 18 are usually required to wear full face protection, this however is not exclusively provided by paintball masks and similar which can be cumbersome when trying to use optics and looking down sights. Fear not however as lower face shields constructed from steel mesh are available and do not hinder you in the use of optics and sights. For players who don’t wish to wear full face protection but still worried about their teeth then I recommend a sports gum shield as it will protect your upper teeth which are the ones most likely to take a hit, though the first time your wear it you may dribble and mumble like a lunatic! After a while you should be able to speak with some clarity. If you need to be clear over the radio you can always remove it then replace.
For your first skirmish in which you might be renting you shouldn’t need your own eye protection – take advantage of what your chosen site provides to find your personal preference without any extra spending! The only thing they may not provide is mesh eye protection or face shields as they normally will have paintball masks instead.
Airsoft generally is a pretty easy going sport and you can wear what you want to a skirmish. MilSim (Military Simulation) games usually have specific rules on what you can and can’t wear but at the moment we won’t concern ourselves with MilSim at the moment. Most players choose to wear military surplus or walking clothing for a skirmish as it tends to blend in the environment, is hard wearing and designed for the activity your about to undertake. I would avoid jeans and tracksuit bottoms. Jeans because once they get wet or damp they can chafe, rub and generally make your life miserable. Tracksuit bottoms I notice tend to fall down especially when wet and climbing over obstacles, which then produces what my Nan calls the ‘Ghetto Effect’ and other players get to see your love heart boxers or knickers if you’re a lady or a very comfortable bloke, we don’t judge!. I would also recommend wearing cycling shorts as your under layer when Airsofting as to keep you cooler and wick sweat away from your skin. An in depth tutorial on layering will follow soon, but a search of the internet will also inform you fairly well. Hopefully you will spend most of your skirmishing days moving and keeping warm, so remember that when getting ready, if in doubt Be Bold, Start Cold! Soon enough you will find that you have warmed up considerably, on a mild or warm day I only play in a shirt and trousers and I still sweat like a Nun in a brothel! Just make sure you’ve packed some extra clothes just in case the weather turns!
Other items you may want to consider buying are gloves to protect your hands from BBs and the environment, a cap or hat to protect your head, waterproofs in case the British weather attempts to spoil your fun and a bag to carry it all in. When starting, a large sports bag should suffice until you fancy being all tacticool with a military deployment bag.
As with eye protection if you are renting from a site they will normally provide a coverall or similar so you don’t have to have your own at the start but if you do own your own gear, nobody will bat an eyelid if you wear it and rent. You will normally also be provided with Load Bearing Equipment which you can place extra magazines or spare BBs in.
Please Note: Due to the tragic attack of Drummer Lee Rigby, members of the Armed Forces and cadets have been advised not to travel in public places in full uniform. As most Airsofters will look like members of the Armed Forces on the day of a skirmish I would advise wearing a civilian top or jumper to and from a skirmish. Trousers and boots shouldn’t draw any unwanted attention as some tradesmen wear surplus clothing. Also any load bearing equipment such as chest rigs or vests should be stored away out of sight, as a person dressed in military gear, a suspicious vest, dirty and sweaty wandering around the local super market may draw the unwanted attention and possibly the Police!
The Day Before/Morning of Your Skirmish
This is a checklist of pre skirmish jobs that I like to do to make sure I’m prepared and can enjoy my day to the full!
Check the weather, nobody likes an unforeseen downpour!
Lay out everything I’m going to take and once it has been accounted for pack it into my bag, items I need at the top.
Tape up my feet.
Prepare my midday meal if the site doesn’t provide one and even if they do they aren’t very ‘nutritious’ (I call it dinner but some folks call it lunch, weirdos!) Don’t forget your spork!
Have a big breakfast you’ll need the energy.
Fill up my water bottle and spare. On a hot day you can easily drink two litres.
Make sure I know where the event is and put it into my SatNav. Be sure to check the skirmish site website for directions as some sites may provide postcodes that are not SatNav friendly but they should warn you about that!
Pack my snacks, apples and bananas. Maybe a Mars bar if it’s raining. Avoid Energy drinks the high sugar and caffeine content can lead to a sugar crash which mid game isn’t fun!
Make sure I’ve enough cash and some extra in my wallet.
Jump in the car, pick up my buddies and head to the site!
By no means was that list exhaustive, but following it you shouldn’t go too far wrong!
At The Skirmish
When you reach the site you will find other Airsofters mooching about, drinking tea and having a laugh so don’t be afraid to join in too, you have as much right to be there as anybody else. As a rule all Airsofters are sociable and can’t wait to have a good chat. Once you have signed onto the site and got your hire kit the next thing will be the safety brief, listen carefully and take on what the marshals are saying, if you have a question always ask it. The only truly stupid question is a question not asked. Once the safety brief has finished its game time, get out there and enjoy it!
Have fun and be safe!