Serious business – Eye protection

So far everything on this blog has been about stuff you might want, whether that’s because it looks cool, suits a load out, or another other reason you might find to justify spending on airsoft gear (mainly to the other half), however this post is about one of two items you need for airsoft, eye protection (and face protection to a certain extent).

Playing airsoft might end up with you earning a few welts or if you’re unlucky, a BB wedge up your nose (one MAC player can testify to this one), but ultimately nothing that won’t heal in a couple of days and might cause a couple of confused questions from work colleagues as to why you have a couple of 6mm red spots on your face on Monday morning. However airsoft is dangerous for one place, your eyes. Take a BB hit directly to your eye and it could mean blindness or seriously impaired vision, so getting your eye pro right is of up most importance. There are many different types and styles of eye pro that a player can choose, some better than others, and some just a plain bad idea.

Before looking into the options, there is one rule for eye pro. It must be impacted rated otherwise it isn’t worth anything to you. Look for eye pro that is ANSI Z87.1 rated and you will know that your eye pro is designed to do the job you bought it for. There are other rating systems, but this one appears on most quality eye wear so is the one I look for.

So what options are there?

  • Shooting glasses
  • ‘Fully sealed’ shooting glasses
  • Goggles
  • Mesh – available in both goggle and full face mask styles
  • Face mask – aka a Paintball mask

First things first, any site worth its salt, both woodland and Urban/CQB should recommend that all their players were full face protection, and anything less is on the player’s head alone. Whilst part of this is driven by insurance requirements that force sites to tell you this, it does also have logic behind it, a 6mm 0.2g BB travelling at 280FPS can (and has) chip, crack or knock out a tooth, and wearing full face protection will stop this. Now that said, a large number of players won’t wear full face, including myself, because of various reasons – mainly to do with comfort and the tendency for full face protection to fog, and we each make the choice of additional welts on the face and the potential for an extra trip(s) to the dentist and going for anything less than full face has to be a choice you make, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Shooting glasses

Left to right: Bolle Silium, Revision Sawfly's, Oakley SI M Frames 2.0 and Oakley SI Five Squared.
Left to right: Bolle Silium, Revision Sawfly’s, Oakley SI M Frames 2.0 and Oakley SI Five Squared.

The picture really says everything about what shooting glasses look like and the styles you’ll get when looking for a pair. My personal preference is shooting glasses but below I’ll present the pro’s and cons to these:

+ Comfort – because shooting glasses are basically impact rated sunglasses, they are typically very comfortable to wear for a prolonged period of time.

+ Outside of mesh (because they can’t), shooting glasses fog the least of all eye pro options (in my personal experience).

— Not fully sealed – if you get a good pair of shooting glasses, they should fit your face well, but because they are not fully sealed, there will always be a chance that a BB could find its way around the lenses.

As I said, these are my personal preference of eye protection and it may sound reckless, but I am willing to accept the small risk that a BB could find its way around the lense for the added comfort and not fogging up. I am unashamedly an Oakley fanboy, and would strongly recommend them to anyone as a choice for shooting glasses – Yes they are expensive and at the top end of the market, but the M Frames 2.0 have lasted 4-5 years now without any scratches or marks from BB impacts, foliage scrapping across them or anything else that might try to scratch them. I’ve since moved onto the Five Squared’s as the centre clip from the M Frames has recently disappeared which provides 100% security of the lenses not falling out so they’ll be used for other sports now, they also offer prescription lenses of nearly all their eye wear (at additional expense). Other quality brands are ESS, Revision, Bolle, Wiley X and Smith Optics.

I would say that of all eye pro, shooting glasses are the most common within the airsoft community.

Sealed shooting glasses

ESS Advancer V12 - image pinched from Google.
ESS Advancer V12 – image pinched from Google.

As the name suggested, these are shooting glasses that are fully sealed. Less common than shooting glasses amongst the airsoft community I have found which maybe because there is a less limited supply of them when compared to the other types. A few pros and cons again:

+ Fully sealed – no chance of a BB getting chancing its way through

+ Fairly comfortable – the fully sealed nature can make them slightly less comfortable than shooting glasses but if you get a pair that fit your face, they should be comfy enough.

— Because they are fully sealed, fogging can be a much bigger issue because there is less ventilation.

I did try some sealed eye pro a few years ago and personally couldn’t get on with them, mainly from a comfort point of view but I have known others that get on really well with them, so I would definitely advise trying to test sealed eye pro out before buying a pair. Decent brands include ESS, Bolle and Wiley X.

Goggles

Another Google images special.
Another Google images special.

Larger in size than shooting glasses, goggles are usually a fully sealed affair. A word to the wise, most Snowboarding and Motorcross/BMX goggles are NOT impact rated at all and could break from a BB impact so do not use them for airsoft unless you know they are specifically impact rated, do not assume they are.

+ Fully sealed

+ Uninterrupted lens on the front gives a good field of view in most cases.

— Tend to fog a lot as they have the same issue as sealed shooting glasses – some brands have fans on top (as shown in the picture) which help with ventilation but they can be hit or miss to whether they work.

— Depending on the size of the goggles, they may interfere with your peripheral vision and may not fit under certain head gear.

Never got on with goggles myself, always found them to fog up because of the amount of heat they keep within them although I have been told the ones with fans in them are much improved in this respect.

Mesh eye pro

Heroshark Mesh goggles and lower face mask
Heroshark Mesh goggles and lower face mask.

As it suggests, rather than being a polycarbonate lens, this eye protection is made from mesh and can be found in goggle, shooting glasses (usually the sealed type) and full face masks.

+ Will not fog, ever.

— If you buy cheap quality mesh, you may find that the paint may flake off the mesh when a BB hits them, and if a paint flake goes in your eye, you are likely to be in a spot of trouble – Don’t buy cheap china/ACM mesh – If you go the mesh route, hit up a guy called HeroShark on Facebook or visit his website here: http://www.heroshark.co.uk/%20. His mesh is the only mesh I would even consider using.

— Whilst at the MAC site, everyone uses BBs that I wouldn’t expect to shatter or splinter upon impact (and we have no requirement to use bio BBs), and so you shouldn’t find yourself with BB splinters getting through the mesh, if you play in the UK with large numbers of players where there is no way you can tell the quality of BB that each player is using, or if the site enforces the use of bio BBs (some of which will shatter although not all), you might end up with BB splinters coming through and going into your eye. If you happen to wear prescription glasses underneath, then this risk is much reduced and they are a very good option for those that don’t want to wear contact lenses or get prescription inserts for their shooting glasses/goggles.

— The mesh can blur some people’s vision. So people’s eye’s aren’t bothered by the mesh in front of their eyes, however some people find they cause a blur.

As mentioned, if you are going to go the mesh route, hit up HeroShark. Personally I am not a fan of mesh, issues above not withstanding, as they do allow dirt/dust to get through which at the Jurby site is an issue,  you also don’t have the option of using tinted/dark lenses on a sunny day, so you might find yourself squinting.

Full face – Paintball style

Full face protection - Paintball style
Full face protection – Paintball style

Probably the highest level of protection you can get in airsoft. Fully sealed goggles with integrated lower face and side protection. You won’t have to face any interesting questions at work wearing one of these.

+ Fully sealed

+ With the integrated lower and side face protection, there is no chance of loosing a tooth or going home with some welts on the face.

— Fog central

— Most uncomfortable of all the options to wear and may also interfere with you getting a cheek weld on your rifle to use sights.

Very commonly the rental mask of choice by sites. Provides almost absolute protection so easily complies with insurance requirements. Started off in airsoft with one of these myself, and whilst they were very uncomfortable and had terrible fogging issues, they do give you the confidence to get stuck in without worrying about taking a head shot, which definitely gives you some extra freedom at your first couple of games to just get involved and enjoy what the sport has to offer. Also very good for young players who should without exception wear full face protection.

Other face protection

Very common in CQB/Urban and maybe woodland if the player prefers, you might see people pairing shooting glasses (sealed or unsealed) or goggles with a mesh lower face mask (or something similar). This gives you the chance to have protection for your mouth/teeth whilst not having to use the more uncomfortable options like a paintball mask. It is another thing to have to adjust to your face and can cause issues with cheek welds, but if you are uncomfortable about having your mouth/teeth exposed but want to use glasses or goggles, then this is the route you should take. Personally I have never bothered because I find them uncomfortable.

Overall

Which ever option you go for, I would suggest asking around at your local site for people’s opinions on their eye protection, and ask to try them on and see which brands and models fit your face best. My advice, eye pro is where you should spend some proper money – They don’t have to be £100 + shooting glasses like Oakley’s can be, but don’t go skimping and spending a fiver on some China/ACM eye protection, some good eye pro can be had for £20-£30 and that your eye sight must surely be worth that at least.

~ Adam Smith (SMIFFY)
~ Adam Smith (SMIFFY)
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