If you’ve never played paintball before, it’s best place to try this game first to make sure you like it before investing in your own gear as the equipment can be fairly expensive. Many players have their first experience at camp or a local commercial field or park. It is a lot easier to rent all the equipment needed, than spend hundreds of dollars on paintball supplies you only use one time because the game was too intense. Renting equipment at a field will run a player from $10-$30 per day; this is recommended for the first few times you play to make sure you will want to play enough times to warrant purchasing your own. Rental paintball guns and gear is often basic models and very easy to learn on. Shooting a paintball gun is not a complicated matter, however it can take a few games to familiarize yourself with the intensity of this venture when other players are shooting at you. When you get hit, you’re not only out of the game, but it hurts! The fear of getting hit causes many first time players a type of paralysis that takes some getting used to.
Once you’ve played with rental (or borrowed) gear a few times and decided paintball is the sport for you, a bit of research is in order. The first decision a new player who’s in the market for buying new gear is to decide what type of paintball they want to play. There are basically two different types; scenario and tournament paintball. Scenario paintball is played on an open course often in a natural setting (also called woodsball) with players carrying out military style missions using realistic looking assault type rifles and camouflage clothing. Tournament paintball is played on a closed course often with inflatable bunkers to hide behind for timed elimination matches (which team can eliminate the other in the given time period). These players use faster, electronic paintball guns and wear professional athletic jerseys and/or uniforms. Once you’ve determined which game you like best, the first piece of gear to purchase is a beginner level paintball gun. Starter paintball guns are simply made so they are easy to maintain and keep clean. Whether you choose woodsball or tournament play, beginner markers are easy to distinguish because they have the cheapest price tags.
After you have a good beginner paintball gun, the next required item on your list is a protective mask. You are not permitted to play without one, so this is mandatory equipment. There are other pieces of protective gear like elbow and knee pads, neck and chest protectors, however they serve only to keep the game more enjoyable/less painful but are not required. Paintball masks come in a wide variety of styles and price ranges yet all offer the same level of protection. Cheaper, entry level masks have less features and often single pane lenses that tend to fog up more. Expect to pay a bit more for thermal lenses but this feature is definitely worth the extra money. Generally, when it comes to protective gear, there is no specific gear for a specific type of play. However, manufacturers do make more “flashy” gear for tournament players and more “military pattern” gear for the scenario players.
The final piece of your initial set-up is an air tank; this is what powers your paintball gun. Some beginner paintball gun packages come with a CO2 tank but if yours doesn’t, this is a necessary expense. CO2 tanks come in different sizes but for the longest play choose the largest available; these are either 20 or 24oz. tanks and you can expect to pay $30-$40 for one. Air tanks come empty so you will have to get it filled before you can use it. Refills can be found at commercial fields, big box sporting goods stores (like Dick’s, Bass Pro or Cabellas) and some gun shops that sell air rifles. If you don’t have access to these types of facilities where you live, you can buy an adapter for your marker to use CO2 cartridges. These are cheap and readily available at Wal-Mart or gun stores however only offer a few shots/cartridge (25-30 depending on the gun). Depending on this method requires constantly changing out cartridges during play and will drain the fun right out of your game. If you have to go this route, paintball is probably not the sport to get into.
Unlike renting equipment, owning your own equipment will require you keep up with maintenance. Paintball guns work on bursts of high pressure air/CO2 to propel the ball at a high speed. The constant high pressure makes it common for little things to go wrong like busted o-rings causing malfunctions with your marker. Paintball is also very messy; the very nature of the game is shooting paint and getting hit (marked) with paint, so expect to have to clean your gun regularly after playing for even just a short period. Most paintball guns come with a barrel squeegee, cleaning cloth and extra o-rings for maintenance. Beginner markers are also usually very easy to take apart for cleaning and maintenance however this is not necessary but for maybe once/year for re-oiling and more thorough cleaning. Even though break downs occur regularly, most issues can be handled by yourself however it’s smart to purchase equipment from a well known brand name so there’s a good warranty in case you need to send something back.
Once you have everything you need to play, you will be excited to play and want to practice every chance you get. If you’re interested in climbing the tournament ranks, getting on a team or organizing your own will be paramount. To do this you will want to play with as many different teams/players at as many different fields/venues as possible. Even if you think you aren’t ready, choose a beginner level tournament and go ahead and enter. Getting tournament experience early will help you shape your skills, strategies and practices to hone yourself into a competitive player. Waiting until you feel ‘ready’ to compete will just put off learning important skills you need early on in your career. Competing will also tell you if it’s something you want to follow through with. Some players think they want to compete but after their first tournament change their mind and only end up playing recreationally; this is of course fine, but will shape how you play and what type of equipment you end up eventually buying.
Know going into it; paintball is not a cheap hobby. It can be quite expensive, but just like any hobby, if you love it, it’s not expensive at all! Test the waters first before diving into this investment by playing with rental or borrowed gear first. If you like it, buy a beginner’s set up to keep expenses down while you learn the game and what equipment you might like. If you fall in love with the sport (like most players end up doing), save your pennies for more expensive, higher performance markers and supplies. Once you have your dream set-up, costs go down, however ongoing expenses such as air refills, paintball ammo, tournament and travel fees must also be considered. If it’s all too confusing, don’t hesitate to ask a more experienced player for their advice about how to play or what to get and why.