I recently played my first game at Manchester Woodland, I was told that it was a relatively low turnout (only about 20 people per team), but i found it to be an incredible experience. That said, i have learned from a couple of "mistakes", that i thought i would share, as well as some ideas that i tried and really felt that i had done the right thing.
A lot of the more experienced players were wearing various types of gloves. as i work in the construction industry, i know how protective a good pair of EN 338 gloves can be. Dont confuse the protective rating for a layer of armour, BBs will still hurt, but it protects your hands from other hazards, like sharp branches, thistle and various other items that could hurt if you threw your hand out to them.
Personally, i spend £10 on a pair of B&Q gloves with half fingers (the last joint of the fingers exposed), and this did a good job, no sweaty palms, no scratches or cuts despite often grasping tree trunks and logs that form the bunkers at Manchester Woodland. for the low cost, they are definitely worth the investment.
This point will be mainly aimed at Manchester Woodland, though it likely applies to every other site, including the indoor sites. and the warning is given at the start of day anyway, but
You WILL spend time walking through untamed woodland, bogs and all.
during one exercise, i joined a team covertly sneaking a few objective items around the perimeter of the play area, through the aptly and lovingly named "Bog of Eternal Stench". it was only up to my ankles, but i certainly wished that my boots were a little more waterproof. Hiking boots are enough for a game day outdoors (at least on a dry day), but military style boots are far better suited. there's a reason that the MOD doesn't hand out dainty hiking boots as standard issue (correct me if I'm wrong).
Also, make sure that you have a change of shoes and socks for the end of the day, always expect to finish a day with wet feet.
3) Face Protection
This is a less important issue, but it will definitely affect those like me who both need glasses, and who cannot wear contact lenses for one reason or another.
the face protection offered for hire is brilliant at its job, i personally took a few hits right at my eyes, and felt next to nothing, not a scratch on any lenses or any damage to my eyes, but the issue is a little more domestic. Fogging of glasses will always be an issue whenever there is something (even a mesh screen) holding your breath in the same place as your lenses. a full face mask made of mesh is brilliant protection, but you can expect it to reduce your visibility, and cause unwanted fogging.
Also, if you have a few pairs of glasses, wear the lowest profile ones that you own. rounder lenses are easier to fit inside face protection, if you can fit your thumb between your face and the hinge of your glasses, you're probably going to have issues with hire gear
My solution is to purchase your own goggles. I went for a mesh goggle system, which at first wouldn't fit my glasses in, but a quick Stanley knife job to the sides opened a channel on either side for the hinges of my glasses to sit inside, making them a near perfect fit. these goggles were available to buy from the shop on site, as well as a mesh mask to cover the lower half of my face (which is personal preference, just bear in mind that the BBs flying at you CAN and HAVE broken teeth when fired at close range)
If you dont want to purchase the higher tier of rental equipment, don't despair. a few players out there will gladly share a few BBs to fill a mag or two because they cost so little. just bear in mind that a high capacity magazine holds around 400 BBs, and a full day of fighting, will go through about 1500 BBs, far more if you start using full auto liberally. Its best to bring a bottle of spare BBs with you, so you can refill a mag quickly should you run dry (its not a hard task, and its shown to everyone using a hire gun), just remember not to bring your own BBs, F&O only allow the high-quality BBs sold by them to be loaded into a hire gun to prevent damage to hire guns by defective ammo.
On the topic of spare BBs, i found that the rattling caused by a bottle half-full of BBs can easily give your position away when climbing over things, or moving quickly. any container that isn't full will rattle (high-cap magazines included), but there is a way to help reduce this with your spare BBs (Thanks to Edward from F&O retail for talking me through this): all it takes is the top of a bottle (the bottle holding the BBs will do), a sharp, pointed knife, a zip-tie or some strong wire (garden wire should do) and a sock. cut the top of the bottle, including the lid and about an inch below the neck and position the open end of the sock over the wider end of the bottle (below the neck) so that you can secure it using the zip tie or wire, holding the sock and bottle-top together. I used a thick sock for walking and it easily holds 4000 BBs, and when held tight at the bottom of a rucksack or utility pouch, doesn't rattle at all. combine this with using mid-cap magazines rather than high-caps, and there will be no rattling at all for a sneaky player.
5) Talk to other people
Wherever you go to play, there will be a few experienced players around who can help you with any airsoft-related questions, from equipment questions, to directions around the map, to tactical advice (I recommend asking an experienced player how to hold a gun, seriously). you can learn a LOT on your first time by tapping into the knowledge of the more experienced, and in my experience, every single player was happy to share tips or let me try a weapon or attachment that they had.
Remember, that any airsofter, especially the ones who spend £400 on a gun and about as much in gear and accessories will be very proud of their gear, and happy to show it off. use the first two months of playing (whilst waiting to satisfy the UKARA conditions) to try a few guns, ask people of the different strengths of each gun, and build a picture of how you like to play, and what weapons and attachments will be best for you. and take advantage of people's eagerness to show their gear. not maliciously of course, but just to help you get a good feel for a gun. it could prevent a silly mistake like buying a gun that is too heavy for you to swing around all day.
6) Moving on
Once you decide that you like airsoft, and want to make it a hobby, you can start to buy some gear for yourself. as with anything, you get what you pay for, buying cheap will usually lead to disappointment. there are a few good places to check for gear:
- F&O Retail - Just off the M61 and A580 - There's no better way to buy gear than going to a shop and trying it. you can try just about anything there, from gear to guns and beyond (check with the staff first of course). dont be afraid to ask questions, and if they dont have what you're looking for, ask; they may be able to get hold of it for you.
- www.ex-mod.com - This was suggested by another player at my first game, you can pick up some genuine issue gear here, and much cheaper than buying wholesale or brand new
another airsoft company - basically a huge bible of airsoft gear. whilst they may not have everything, they certainly have most things. they even offer a free spray service to produce two-tone guns if you dont want to wait for your UKARA accreditation, but remember to chech at F&O Retail first, not because i want to plug them on their forums, but because its easier to try before you buy then faff around sending things back.
You might want to start buying some accessories early on. most weapon attachments fit a standard 20mm rail, like those on top of the hired G36c's provided by F&O. its worth checking first, but you may well be allowed to attach your own reflex/dot sights onto hire guns, as well as other gear. (if there's someone who can confirm this, i would appreciate that).
Other things like assault vests can save you some money on rental gear, you could probably reach a stage where the only thing missing from your personal airsoft loadout is a gun and mags (dont buy any old M4 "STANAG" or G36 mag thinking that it will fit any weapon like a real one, different manufacturers don't always allow cross-compatibility with magazines)
Hopefully this can help some people looking to get into Airsoft, or who are getting started like me. If you have any experience you want to share, post it below and i'll add it to this post.