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The paintball mask IS your most important piece of gear. You simply cannot play without it. It is your first line of protection for your eyes, nose, mouth, and ears.
Choosing a mask is actually more complicated than a lot of players, especially new players, realize.
Here are things to consider:
· Size, fit, comfort, and adjustment
· Glasses or no glasses
· Clarity when speaking
· Fog and moisture resistance
· Lens colors
· Compatibility with other gear
· Cost of mask
· Cost of lenses
· Availability of mask
· Availability of replacement lenses
· Ease of cleaning
· Ease of lens replacement
· Quality and construction
· Color and patterns
· How it looks when worn
Wow you say. That IS quite a list. Let's look at each one in a bit more detail.
Size, Fit, Comfort, and Adjustment
Try a mask on. There is no better way to answer these questions. Does it fit comfortably? Is it adjustable to fit your head? Does it cover the ears properly? Does it fit securely to your face, particularly around your nose? Wiggle it on your head, snap you head around, move. Does it move or stay put? Can you adjust it to stay and feel good?
Glasses or No Glasses
A good portion of paintball players where prescription glasses. A good portion may also choose to wear sunglasses. If you do, check the mask for proper clearance around the glasses or sunglasses. If they contact the lens easily then it is not for you.
Masks typically come in full face and full head coverage. Some players and groups specify eye protection only with paintball rated goggles but I am not recommending them here. Full face masks cover the eyes, nose, mouth, and usually the ears too. A full head mask also extends back over the players head as well offering additional protection. Full head masks are typically a little warmer than full face masks and can limit or omit other headgear such as hats, helmets, bandanas, and so on.
Can you use your full peripheral vision or is there a restriction? Can you see up and down well? Check for the clarity of the lens...are there distortions? Make sure that you can see clearly and fully.
Not all masks treat your hearing well. Put the mask on and listen. Can you hear slight noises or does the mask muffle or obstruct them entirely. Talk to others. Can you hear them easily?
Clarity When Speaking
Unless you play alone you will need to communicate with others, often verbally. So, talk to others again. Can they understand you clearly and at different volumes? Are you words garbled behind the plastic and resin? Can you whisper and be heard clearly?
Fog and Moisture Resistance
Look at the mask. Does it have a dual pane lens system which helps prevent fogging? Check for proper ventilation of your breath, heat, and moisture from both the eye area and mouth/nose area. How does the mask breath? Are there adequate ventilation slots?
Check to see what colors of lenses are available for the mask. Colors are often clear, smoke, yellow, and chrome. Some offer two color lenses as well. If you play at night a yellow or clear lens will help. If you play only in bright daylight consider a smoke lens.
Compatibility With Other Gear
Some players like to wear paintball helmets. Others like to wear shemaghs and neck protectors. Check the mask works with your gear choices and that they do not conflict with each other.
Cost of Mask
A lot of players are budget minded to some extent. The cost of a really good mask can be prohibitive for some. The BIG BUT here is that the mask is your most important piece of safety gear. It will also have one of the biggest impacts on your enjoyment of the game. Be aware of the cost but ensure that you are satisfied with the mask too. Don't skimp on this one.
Cost of Lenses
Lenses do not last forever and can break. Replacement of lenses is inevitable so be aware of the cost of replacement lenses. Are they super expensive or very cheap. Make an informed choice when you purchase your mask and not put off replacing a lens because of cost issues.
Availability of Mask
Researching the mask you want is great but be sure that you can get it, preferably locally. Trying on a mask is essential to determining suitability for you. If you cannot get a mask locally, be prepared to return it if it doesn't live up to your expectations.
Availability of Lenses
Check for availability of replacement lenses for your mask. Can you get them locally or ideally at your local fields that you frequent? At the field is best in case of breaks and other significant lens damage. Do you have to order them? Are they even available yet or still?
Ease of Cleaning
This is one of the least important aspects but one worth mentioning. Look at the intricate designs, vents, and grooves and determine how easy it is to clean? Look at the inside and note if you can fit your hand everywhere and how difficult wiping the mask down will be?
Ease of Lens Replacement
Know how easy it is to change a lens. Some have quick change systems that take mere seconds, others require tools and / or can take up to 20 minutes to remove and replace a lens. This can sometimes make the difference between playing or not and can be a huge source of frustration if it takes a long time or is incredibly difficult.
Quality and Construction
Examine the mask for its construction and assembly quality. Even within the same mask brand and manufacturer inconsistencies in quality can occur. Does the mask feel solidly built? Are there loose parts, mis-aligned parts, or even broken parts? If so, change it for another and check again. Make sure the quality you want is there.
Some players accessorize their mask. If you wish to put fans into your mask make sure the mask accepts them. Same if you use a radio with a headset, ensure that your headset works under the mask when worn and is comfortable. If you intend on mounting the headset permanently in the mask, check for fit, mounting points, and permanence of the mounting. Some masks come with visors or have the option for visors.
Color and Patterns
Does the mask come in different colors or color combinations? Does it come in one you want or one that is reasonably close? Do different colors or patterns change the cost at all? Does the colors work with the lens colors available that you want to wear? Does it match your outfit if that is important?
How It Looks When Worn
Never underestimate how a mask looks on you when wearing it. Are you happy with the way it looks on you? Does it send the right message? Hey, looks are important too.
So, a lot to think about. Next time you are shopping for a mask, think of this list or better yet, print it out and take it with you. Careful consideration of the possibilities, deciding what is important to you, and making the best choice possible will make your paintball experience better or at least eliminate one source of frustration that may occur.
<i>This article is reprinted from my paintball blog article, Choosing a Paintball Mask. </i>