How to Play Paintball: A Guide for Beginners
Paintball has the power to turn your friends into sworn enemies, to reveal your courage in the face of danger, and to make your shirt really dirty. It's a pretty intense sport.
So it's understandable how a beginner could feel intimidated before their first match. To clear things up a bit, we spoke to Paintball USA co-owner April Schwartz, who regularly helps new players navigate their way around the field. With her help, we devised a rundown of equipment, rules, and other essential info about how to play paintball.
What equipment do I need?
You're not required to purchase anything before you arrive at the field, and in fact, if it's your first time playing, you probably shouldn't. You'll be better off renting equipment so you can get a feel for the game before deciding if you want to invest in your own supplies.
A typical rental package will include the following items:
- Paintball marker (AKA "paintball gun")
- Hopper (paintball container that attaches to your marker)
- CO2 or compressed-air tank to power the marker
You'll also need to buy paintballs to be able to play, which you can do when you arrive. Many businesses enforce a "field paint only" rule, meaning you can only use paintballs you've purchased on site. This is done to ensure all paintballs in use conform to the field's safety requirements.
How much does paintball cost?
The answer depends on how long you intend to play and how trigger-happy you are. A reasonable range might be $40–$80 for a full day's worth of field access, equipment, and paintballs (though you can often find discounted paintball deals on Groupon). The biggest variable is ammo: you might use anywhere from 250 to 1,000 paintballs in a visit, putting the cost of paint at somewhere between $10 and $40.
Do paintballs hurt?
Paintballs can certainly hurt, but there's plenty you can do to minimize the pain. "You want to cover up as much exposed skin as possible," says Schwartz. "Put layers of clothing between your skin and the paintball to [blunt] the impact." Hoodies, sweats, or even just a couple of layered T-shirts make an impact feel like "a bouncy type of hit, as opposed to something that stings." Many fields also rent optional protective gear, such as chest protectors and gloves.
What to wear paintballing?
Aside from layering up to protect yourself, the main thing to know about dressing for paintball is that you'll be at a disadvantage if you're not trying to camouflage yourself. Most players dress in earth tones, olive greens, and other natural colors so they'll blend in with their surroundings come game time.
You should also choose your footwear carefully. "Standard sneakers are slick, [so] you'll want to wear something that has ridges in the bottom," says Schwartz. She specifically recommends sports cleats, which have a bit more traction. "You want to have some grip on your shoes, because a lot of times the dirt has some rocks in it and [it's easy to] slip and fall."
What are the rules of paintball?
There are many different game variations, but almost all of them have a few rules in common.
- Never remove your facemask for any reason while on the field of play.
- Only fire at opponents from beyond a given minimum distance. You also shouldn't shoot players who you know have already been marked. At Paintball USA, for instance, "you can't go closer than 10 feet and just stand there and unload your gun on someone," says Schwarz.
- If you're hit by a paintball and it leaves a solid mark, you're out of the game. (Paintballs that bounce off without breaking don't count.) Put your hands in the air to indicate you're out, then walk off the field once the referee has acknowledged you.
- You're responsible for calling yourself out, and doing so fairly might be the most important factor in keeping a game fun and friendly. Don't try to rub off the paint from a hit or you may face a harsh penalty for "wiping" (and lots of dirty looks from your fellow players). That said, some fields have a "reincarnation rule" for beginners. "If you get shot early on, you can clean off the paint and come back," says Schwarz.
What are some different paintball games?
In this game, play continues until one team has been completely knocked out. It can also be played individually, with the last person standing declared the winner.
Capture the Flag
The goal in this team game is to cross into your opponents' territory, seize their flag, and return it to your base. Alternatively, you can win by eliminating all the players on the other team.
This category covers a wide variety of games that involve setting up a specific situation and assigning competing goals to each team. For instance, in a "VIP" scenario, one team attempts to escort a given player across the field to a certain endpoint, while the opposing team tries to eliminate that player. Often the scenarios are modeled on real-world military situations.
Less a specific game type than a general playing style, this category covers any game played on a special speedball field, which, compared to a typical field, is smaller, flatter, and devoid of cover aside from artificial barriers placed throughout the course. The point is to reward teamwork and aggressive tactical play over stealth and patience.
There are dozens of other major and minor variations on how to play paintball, with many fields offering their own twists. Check out the field's website or ask when you arrive to learn about which game types are available there. And after you've gotten out onto the paintball battlefield, read up on our paintball tips and strategy for how to take your game to the next level.