Your paintball mask (often referred to as a paintball goggle) is the single most important piece of paintball equipment you will own. You can go out on the paintball field without a marker, but not without a mask! There are a variety of paintball masks to choose from in a wide range of lens styles, coverage and fit. This guide will help you make an informed decision.
In the early days of paintball players used typical shop or ski goggles while playing. THIS IS UNSAFE! Eventually the industry began making paintball-specific goggles and now must pass ASTM approval for use. All paintball goggles have these four components: a goggle lens, a goggle frame, a protective mask, and a goggle strap.
Paintball Goggle Lens
A paintball goggle lens is typically made of Lexan or other polycarbonate material for strength and shatter resistance. The lens fits securely within the goggle frame to protect the eyes from both impact and paint spray. Depending on the mask model, a lens may be flat and curved or of a bubble design for varying degrees of peripheral and vertical vision, fit, and clarity. Most lenses are coated with an anti-glare and scratch resistant material.
A paintball goggle lens comes as either a single pane or dual pane lens. A single pane lens is a one piece design that has an anti-fog coating cured onto it. Single lenses are easier to maintain and clean but are not as good at resisting fogging. Dual pane lenses, often referred to as thermal paintball lenses, consist of a thicker outer lens and a thinner inner lens connected by an airtight foam or rubber gasket glued between them. The air trapped between the lens insulates the inner lens for the best anti-fog protection available. The downside to a thermal lens is the care required in cleaning and maintenance. The inner lens is softer and more prone to scratching if you do not use a microfiber cloth, and you cannot dunk them in water to clean as water will get between the lens and permanently fog.
Paintball Goggle Frame
A paintball goggle frame is what the lens fits into. Sometimes the goggle frame and mask are all one piece. A goggle frame has either a fixed lens or a quick release lens system. A quick release lens system is far more convenient than a fixed one for cleaning and maintaining your paintball mask, but are more complex to manufacture so they increase the cost. The goggle frame foam is what makes contact with your face while wearing. It is important that this foam forms a good seal, to prevent your warm exhaled breath from rising up under the lens to fog it up. The foam is also important for comfort. Lower cost mask typically have more rigid foam while better masks have thicker, softer material. Premium masks often have dual layer foam, with one layer thicker providing comfortable support while the other is soft against the face and absorbs sweat better.
Paintball Protective Mask
The mask portion of the goggle is what will protect your face from impact. Different paintball masks offer varying degrees of protection and other attributes. There is no ‘perfect’ paintball mask; consider your playing style and level of competition.
The first thing to consider is how much overall coverage do you want? Beginner and recreational paintball masks tend to be larger to fit more people, and have more overall surface area, especially along the jaw line, forehead, and larger ear sections. Players at this level tend to prefer more coverage at the expense of increased weight. Tournament players, on the other hand, are trying to reduce as much of their target profile as possible. High end paintball masks are more streamlined, sit closer to the face, and generally offer as much coverage as needed to meet field requirements. Thus, tournament masks often leave the bottom of the chin, jawline and forehead exposed on players with large heads and wide faces.
What is the mask made out of? Recreational masks are typically constructed of solid or semi-rigid plastic. This offers the ultimate in impact protection from direct paintball hits, especially from close range. The downside to this is a heavy mask that doesn’t flex at all, and can be quite jarring when bumping your head into things on the field. Tournament masks tend to be made of softer, pliable material. This makes them more comfortable in the rigors of the game and promotes a paintball to potentially bounce instead of break. However, these masks also flex under the impact of a close range hit, so you will still experience the discomfort of a direct hit. Tournament players consider this a good trade-off for a potential game-changing bounce that keeps them on the field. Many mid-range masks are a hybrid of the two; they feature a rigid upper section with a softer lower section. They flex with impact but still absorb the effect. These masks are especially popular with milsim players who use shoulder stocks, so the jawline conforms to the face when aiming.
Consider the type of ear coverage a mask has. Those with soft ear pieces are streamlined and comfortable but do little to absorb the uncomfortable impact of a close range shot. Hard ear pieces can be harder to hear out of and present a hard, non-bouncing target but absorb all impact energy. Take a look at the ventilation holes. The more holes, the easier to breathe and project your voice, at the expense of eating more nasty-tasting paint and shell when shot in the mouth area.
Paintball Goggle Strap
The strap is often overlooked when choosing a paintball mask. All goggle straps are elastic for a snug fit when on your head. The better straps on the market have several beads of silicone along the inside so that the sizing sliders will grip and stay put. If your strap does not have these then you will have to readjust throughout the day. High end masks often have a toothed clamp to hold the adjustment in place.
Full Head Paintball Mask
A separate category is the full head paintball goggle system. These are typically a current model mask with the additional of a complete helmet section that is permanent or removable. The best ones are made of flexible material that is rigid enough to efficiently absorb impact, yet pliable enough to comfortably conform to the shape of your head. Full headshield paintball masks can get hot and stuffy to wear but they offer unparalleled protection so you can play with ultimate confidence. They are especially popular for use on youth players and adults whose careers are not suited to showing up to work Monday morning looking like you played paintball over the weekend! Because of the increased heat and condensation from the full head coverage, a thermal lens is recommended for these masks.