Winterizing your airsoft gear and yourself for the season.
In many areas of the country, airsoft, paintball, and other outdoor sports & hobbies tend to naturally wind down around winter. But in Wisconsin, we prefer to stay active in all seasons.
But to do this, we need to be prepared for the elements we intend to face.
If you're cold and miserable, you're unlikely to enjoy yourself. And if you're not having fun, what is the point?
Players are often surprised when I say the two most important things they will ever buy for airsoft are boots, and goggles. If you can't comfortably navigate the field on your feet, you'll have a rough time. And if you can't SEE through fogged goggles you're unlikely to enjoy yourself either.
There are multiple choices when it comes to footwear, from high end and "high speed" offerings, to more affordable options that can be found in most box stores. I'm not here to tell you which is the best, only to suggest that you take a decent amount of time finding the best shoes or boots for you. Personally, I prefer waterproof Merrell boots with a higher cut. ( But this is because I have glass ankles that I tend to roll. ) Columbia is another fine choice for a waterproof boot that will keep you comfortable and dry without breaking the bank. That being said, even the best designed boots can allow some moisture inside, and a pair of wet and cold feet will end your day just as surely as a gun failure might. Consider bringing extra socks!
When it comes to goggles there are a multitude of options for every play-style. Paintball goggles with a thermal (dual-pane) lenses are the king of anti-fogging, with the JT Spectra series of goggles being widely regarded as the top of the line. I've been wearing this style of goggle since 1996, and I have never seen them fog in any weather conditions. However not everyone likes to wear paintball goggles to play airsoft. Some people prefer a lower profile option. For them, there is no single answer. Fogging will more often than not be caused by a combination of the weather conditions you're playing in, and the way your body reacts. Goggles that may never fog for one player will be impossibly fogged for another. Much like the footwear we discussed, this will require some testing. As a heavy-fogger myself, I personally like the Bolle X800 style of goggles. They've got a free-floating lens that allows a ridiculous amount of airflow which reduces the chance of fogging. The Bolle themselves aren't cheap, but there are a number of "clones" on the market for much less. ( And we happen to stock them at the counter if you'd like to take a look. ) Another option to consider is picking up an aftermarket fan unit that will supply your goggles with moving air to discourage fog.
I won't get into clothing with any specificity. There are 80 billion pieces of new clothing made every year. I trust you'll be able to pick a brand and style that works for you.
It is my hope that this should be common sense for most players, but if you've never before been to Wisconsin (or anywhere) in the winter, I'll offer the following advice:
Generally when you're out active in the cold, you want to wear four layers. A base layer of moisture wicking material is a good option, or thin wool. Wool is nice, as it will continue to provide warmth even after it has gotten wet. Over the base layer, your regular street clothes should suffice, but as always it's a good idea to wear something you don't mind getting dirty or wet. You can wear another fleece layer over this, or your "uniform" for the day. Camouflage, snow-gear, or what have you. To top it off, a water repellent over-jacket is generally a good idea. But the layering is most important as it allows you to shed or add layers as you heat up and cool down throughout the day. You're also going to want a good pair of gloves (that will still allow you to manipulate your airsoft gun or marker) and a hat. Always bring a hat. ;-)
Always dress for the environment and conditions you intend to play in.
Equipment is a little more difficult to prepare for winter. Electric airsoft guns in general don't suffer much performance wise in the cold, but depending on the type of battery you're using, they can drain down faster in the cold. This problem is most common with the older style NiMH batteries and even older style NiCd batteries. It's less of an issue with current LiPo batteries, but can still arise. Your best bet here is to simply plan ahead and bring extra batteries.
Gas pistols too will suffer in the cold. Green gas pistols in particular will become almost inoperable in temps near freezing. There are ways to combat this, but no perfect solution. One option is to tuck a hand warmer or two into the pocket or pouch that generally carry your pistol magazines in. This will keep them warm until they're needed. But even then, their performance will gradually drop as they chill to the ambient temperature. Your consistency will degrade regardless. Generally, I leave my green gas pistols at home after fall. CO2 pistols will function better, or at least more consistently in the cold- but their performance in terms of range and FPS will also be limited.
Spring powered rifles, shotguns, and pistols will continue to function, but in extreme cold the hop-up rubbers might become brittle or unyielding- which will result in poor BB flight and inconsistency in accuracy. ( This is also a possibility with the aforementioned gas and electric guns also. )
Lastly, be aware of that some airsoft guns are made with materials that do not fare well in very chilly temperatures. Depending on the material your gun is made of, it might be more prone to breaking or snapping if handled roughly. So keep that in mind as you assault the city, or take a diving leap into cover. ;-)
As is the case with most things, there is no perfect answer, and seldom and absolute right or wrong. What works for one player may not work for another. Cold weather is no deterrent to a prepared and comfortable player, so experiment and find what works best for you.
Winter in Wisconsin is a magical time, and we here are Damage Control are excited to offer year-round play to our customers. So grab your gun, a change of socks, snow-camo, and whatever else you feel is necessary, and then join us on the field.
( It's worth noting that while this post was addressed to airsoft players, much of what is contained herein will also apply to paintball players and their preparation. Damage Control carries GI Frostbite Winter Formula paintballs to insure that everyone has a good time, regardless of the temps! )