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How to play paintball the first time: 27 Expert Tips

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Playing paintball for the first time can be an overwhelming experience.

Learning how to use your marker and keep your mask from fogging up is difficult enough. Adding in the strategy and tactics of a live battle is enough to drive any newcomer crazy. 

If you’re going to be playing paintball for the first time soon, don’t worry. This list of 27 expert tips will help you start off on the right foot. 

1. Get a decent paintball marker

Your number one task when learning to play paintball is to equip yourself with a decent marker.

If you’re renting your marker from a paintball pro store, this is likely out of your control.

However, if you do have the luxury of buying your own, here are a few tips:

The three types

There are three types of paintball markers‒ Pump, Mechanical, and Electronic.

A pump paintball marker is the oldest type of paintball marker, though it’s been seeing a resurgence in popularity over the last few years. This marker operates like a pump shotgun, requiring the operator to cock the marker and load the next paintball into the chamber. This type of marker is not beginner-friendly ‒ I recommend using one of the other two types if you’re new to the sport.

A mechanical paintball marker is the type of marker most people use when they first start playing. These are semi-automatic and operate on either CO2 or compressed air. If you rent a marker from a paintball pro shop, this is what they’re going to give you.

An electronic marker used to be considered an overpriced luxury item, but they’ve become quite affordable in recent years. These are powered by batteries, and their trigger is often compared to clicking a mouse ‒ which allows even novices to fire extremely rapidly. However, they still cost considerably more than mechanical markers, and so aren’t typically used by beginners. 

The best type of marker for beginners

A mechanical marker is the best option for people who are new to paintballing. They are extremely easy to maintain, only requiring the occasional cleaning session. The CO2 or compressed air canisters that power these markers are also affordable and easy to find.

If you’re going to be paintballing regularly, I recommend getting a mechanical marker that costs at least $100. While the markers in the $25 to $95 range are certainly usable, they lack the durability that more expensive markers come with.

A marker in this higher price range will also likely be easier to upgrade. If you start paintballing on a more serious level, you’re going to want to add some of the optional additions that turn standard markers into absolute beasts. 

2. Choose the right type of tank

If you go with a mechanical marker, you’ll need to decide between the two main tank types: CO2 and compressed air.

CO2 is the more affordable option, and many beginners go with this for the price point alone. However, you should know that it’s less reliable than compressed gas. If the temperature gets too cold, or if you shoot too quickly, liquid CO2 can enter the main body of the marker and decrease your accuracy.

Most professional paintballers use compressed air tanks. Here’s why:

  • They’re bigger, so you’ll get more shots out of a single fill.
  • They don’t have accuracy issues when you fire quickly.
  • Cold weather doesn’t affect their performance. 
  • You can top off compressed air canisters in between matches. This is not doable with a CO2 tank.

3. Buy the right mask

Aside from the marker, your paintball mask is the most important piece of gear you’ll buy. If you choose a cheap or poorly-sized one, you’ll have a harder time enjoying yourself as the glass will be fogging up and the straps will be falling off your face. 

Try a bunch of different masks

If you’re buying a mask, I recommend going to a paintball pro shop and trying on everything in your price range. You might find different masks fit your face better than others ‒ this is something you can’t really know unless you try each out. 

Don’t buy something cheap

Inexpensive masks are usually low-quality masks. And low-quality masks come with a host of problems:

  • The rubber on the inside will rub against your face as you play. 
  • The glass (or plastic) lens will mist extremely easily. 
  • There will likely be a lack of ventilation, which will add to the misting problem. 
  • They are generally not comfortable to wear whatsoever. 

4. Keep your goggles clean and mist-free

One of the most common complaints new paintballers have is that their goggles are constantly fogging over. They constantly have to take off their masks and wipe them down in between rounds, and during rounds they’re basically running around blind.

To prevent your goggles from misting, use the following tips:

  • Get high-quality goggles with dual-pane lenses and good ventilation. 
  • Use an anti-fog spray before you begin playing. 
  • Take off your mask in between rounds to help your head cool down. 

5. Make sure your paintballs fit your barrel

Although this is an uncommon problem, it is possible for the paintballs to be too big for your barrel. You won’t have this issue if you’re renting, as the rental shop will supply you with both a marker and paintballs. But if you’re buying your own gear and supplies, you need to double-check that the pellets you’re buying are small enough for your barrel. 

6. Keep your marker clean

A clean marker is a working marker. As long as you make a point to regularly clean your marker after use, even the cheapest $25 option will last you for a few years.

If you don’t know how to clean your marker, here’s a small guide. You’ll need squeegees, a toothbrush, paintball oil, paper towels, hot water, and tools to disassemble the marker.

  1. Remove the CO2/compressed air tank
  2. Disassemble the marker. You may need the owner’s manual to view the schematics, as these will tell you which parts should be disassembled first. 
  3. Clean the barrel by moving a squeegee through it. Wipe down the barrel with hot water and a paper towel, and then use another paper towel to dry it. 
  4. Clean the marker body. Run a squeegee through the parts you can, and use a wet toothbrush to get the harder-to-reach spots. 
  5. Clean the grip frame. Again, a toothbrush is the best option here. 
  6. Next up is the bolt and hammer. You’ll need to remove these and wipe them down thoroughly with a paper towel. 
  7. Oil and lubricate the marker. You’ll need oil that is specifically made for paintball markers ‒ if you use regular oil, you increase your marker’s risk of damage. 
  8. Reassemble the marker. Use the schematics as a guide if you need one. 

7. Be careful in cold weather

If you use a mechanical marker with a CO2 tank, cold weather can cause some issues. The low temperature will cause the pressure in the tank to drop substantially, which can affect the accuracy and fire rate of your marker.

Cold weather will also make paintballs hurt more. If you’re not used to the sting of a paintball yet, I recommend wearing extra layers when it’s cold out. You’ll avoid the extra sting of the paintballs, and it’ll also help with staying warm in the frigid weather. 

8. Stay topped up on gas/air

There’s nothing worse than being in the middle of an intense battle and realizing you’re out of CO2 or air to fire with. Not only would you be letting your teammates down, you’re also a sitting duck for the first opponent to open up on.

To avoid this embarrassing problem, top up your tank in between each game. If you have a compressed air tank, this will be pretty simple ‒ just find the nearest fill station. CO2 canisters can only be filled if the tank is completely empty though, so you’ll have to attach another canister if you feel your tank getting low. 

9. Learn how to move correctly

Winning in paintball is all about proper movement. Knowing where to run, when to run there, and how to move when you do will play an enormous role in your success.

Here are a few tips to help you move effectively:

  • Hide behind cover when you can. It’s okay to pop out of cover to shoot at someone, but there’s a good chance you’ll get popped yourself when you do. 
  • Run in a zig-zag motion when moving from one piece of cover to the next. While a straight running pattern may get you to cover faster, it’s also much easier to hit a target running in a linear fashion. Zig-zags will make you much harder to hit. 
  • Don’t be afraid to get down on the ground. Lying prone can make you harder to see and hit.

10. Get in decent shape

Paintball is a physical sport. While you aren’t hitting anyone like football, there is still a lot of running, diving, and sliding involved. You also need to get used to carrying a heavy marker and heavy gear. Being in decent shape will have a positive impact on all of these, so upping your fitness game before you start playing will definitely come in handy.

Here are a few of the best things you can do to get in shape for paintball:

  • Go for runs. Paintballing requires a mixture of endurance and speed, so mix it up between long aerobic runs and intense anaerobic sprints. 
  • Lift weights ‒ specifically your arm muscles. Paintball markers get pretty heavy, especially if you’re using a bulkier compressed air canister. Increasing your arm strength can make you a more agile and effective shooter. 
  • Do army crawl exercises. This might seem like a weird one, but army crawling is an incredibly helpful form of movement in paintball. 

11. Practice shooting before you play

Every sport needs practice and warmup. If you go in to paintball without knowing how to aim or shoot the marker properly, you’re going to have a hard time learning it on the fly in the heat of battle.

If at all possible, set aside some time for target practice before the first match. If you’re renting a marker, this could even be a few minutes of shooting beforehand. You just don’t want the first time you shoot to be in the match.

The biggest issue many people have with paintballing as a hobby is the cost. It costs money to buy paintballs, refill CO2/compressed air canisters, and maintain equipment. Shooting at trees or targets only adds to this cost ‒ so you should only practice consistently if you have the funds for it. If not, enjoy your time at the field and accept that you probably won’t be the greatest player there. 

12. Hide in spots with lots of coverage

I already mentioned hiding behind cover ‒ I just want to go into a bit more detail about that here.

It’s obviously important to have an obstacle between you and the enemy’s side. But it’s also important to have obstacles between you and your flanks as well.

Smart, effective paintballers aren’t going to sit directly opposite you and hope you poke your head out. They’re going to move down the flanks of the field and try to pop you in the sides or back. If you’re not ready for that by hiding behind cover that protects you from all directions, then you’ll likely get shot from an unlikely location at least once. 

13. Communicate with your team

Communication is key in all walks of life, and paintball is no exception. Coordinating movements, calling out enemy positions, and asking for cover fire are all essential if you want to win a paintball match.

A team of professional paintballers is sure to have formed a deep intuitive connection between team members. Nothing needs to be said for one player to know exactly what another is going to do in a certain moment.

However, as a newcomer, you almost certainly won’t have this kind of connection with your team. You’ll have to use words to give and receive directions if you want to act in a coordinate fashion.

Communication doesn’t always have to be verbal either. If you’re comfortable with your team, you can communicate effectively with nothing but hand signals and shoulder taps. 

14. Don’t reuse paint pellets

Paintballs can get pretty expensive, especially if you spend all day shooting at a high rate of fire. To compensate for this, it can be tempting to pick off used paint pellets off the floor and load them into your marker.

Don’t do this. Pellets that have fallen on the ground will instantly become contaminated with all kinds of soil, sticks, and other debris. When you load them into your marker hopper, you’re basically transferring all of that stuff inside your marker. This will increase the risk of getting a mid-game jam or damaging the marker. It’ll also make your post-paintballing cleaning session significantly harder to deal with. 

15. Accuracy is more important than speed

Many newcomers like to point their marker in the general direction of the enemy and press the trigger as rapidly as possible. While this can be fun, it’s not the best way to play.

Accuracy is more important than speed. Remember, a single hit will take someone out of the game. So one well-placed pellet to the chest is worth more than 100 pellets that went flying over your target’s head.

If you’d like to aim better, here are a couple of tips that might help you:

Don’t aim from the hip

While it feels cool, aiming from the hip is probably the most inaccurate form of shooting you can practice. Don’t do it unless you’re in a dire close-quarters situation. In any other scenario, you should aim properly.

You can aim properly by looking down the sights and firing when your target is between them. This is much easier said than done, and new paintballers will probably find hip-firing more comfortable. If you want to be an effective player, learning to aim properly is essential though. 

Don’t blindly shoot rapid fire

Even if you are holding your marker correctly, it won’t do you any good if you’re trying to shoot as fast as possible. Increased velocity usually results in a decrease of accuracy ‒ that’s why snipers are effective from a distance..

So don’t fire your marker rapidly if you don’t know what you’re doing. It will only waste valuable ammo and gas/compressed air ‒ which also means you’re wasting money. 

16. Hold your marker upright

If you have a mechanical marker with a CO2 canister, you need to hold your marker upright. If you let it hang by your side, gravity will cause the liquid CO2 to drain into your marker and cause all kinds of accuracy-diminishing damage.

You don’t want to hold your marker too upright though ‒ enemies will see the barrel poking out over your cover, and will instantly shoot you when you pop out to view the area. Your main concern should be ensuring the barrel isn’t pointed at the ground. As long as you avoid this, your CO2 canister shouldn’t give you trouble. 

17. Don’t tunnel vision on one opponent

One of the biggest mistakes newcomers make is tunnel visioning on a single opponent. Remember, there are a whole bunch of enemies on the other side of the field. If you focus on a single one of them and ignore the rest, a couple of things might happen:

  • You might miss an opportunity to pop an opponent who moves or sticks their head out from behind cover. 
  • You might not notice an enemy sneaking up on you. 

18. Wear camouflage clothing

If you’re out in a forest or field somewhere ‒ and most paintball matches are ‒ you should wear camouflage clothing that matches your surroundings. It’ll make it harder for the enemy to see you, which will allow you to lay in more open areas and find better shots. 

19. Know the rules

There are a number of different game modes within the overarching umbrella of paintball. Each mode has its own separate rule set, so you need to be aware of which game you’re playing. If you accidentally play by the wrong set of rules, both your team and the opponent’s team will both likely be upset with you. 

20. Tell your team to spread out

Concentrating your entire team in an enclosed area is a great way to quickly lose a round. You'll only have a single vantage point from which to look and shoot from. If the enemy is spread out ‒ and you’re not ‒ it’s going to be a quick and easy round for the enemy.

If your team isn’t willing to spread out and decrease the chance of a team wipe, you should take it upon yourself to move away from them. Choose the flank that is most opposite of them, and begin to make your way down it. 

21. If you get hit, check that the pellet broke

You’re not automatically out if a paintball hits your body. You’re only out if the pellet breaks and splatters paint on you. So if you do get hit, check that the pellet actually broke before heading out. 

22. Try the “Dead Man’s Walk”

This a risky, old-school tactic ‒ but it’s so crazy that it just might work.

The Dead Man’s Walk is when you simply get up from behind your cover spot and start casually walking toward the enemy base. If you do this nonchalantly and innocently, the enemy might think you’re out and not shoot at you. This can give you the opportunity to get up close and personal with the opponent and take out a few of their people at close quarters. 

23. Provide covering fire for moving teammates

Most eliminations in paintball come when someone is moving from between cover spots. If you don’t provide cover fire when one of your teammates makes a move, the enemy will be free to poke their heads out and rain paint on them.

If possible, it’s best to coordinate that cover fire so that everyone is on the same page. This isn’t always possible, though, so try to be aware of your surroundings and automatically cover for teammates who are making a surprise break for it. 

24. If you run out of pellets, keep shooting

Running out of paintballs sucks. You instantly lose the ability to eliminate anyone on the other team, and you’re basically forced to hope that your teammates can carry you.

However, you can still be useful if you run out of paintballs during a battle. As long as your marker still has fuel (CO2/compressed air/etc.), you can still pretend you’re shooting. The enemy will have no idea paintballs aren’t actually coming at them ‒ all that matters is that they think they are. 

25. Keep tabs on the Marshal’s position

The Marshal is the referee in paintball. He/she makes the final call on who is out, who isn’t out, who’s scored points if the game mode has a points system, and basically does everything else you’d expect a ref to do.

Naturally, Marshals like to stay close to the action so they can determine if someone is out or not. So if you see the Marshal walking in your direction, be on your guard. An enemy combatant might be right nearby, ready to take you out of the game at a moment’s notice. 

26. Use smoke grenades to get out of tight spots

If you do find yourself surrounded by enemies, throwing down a smoke grenade is an excellent way to get yourself out.

Most beginners won’t typically have something like this ‒ but as a beginner is more likely to get themselves into a dicey position, having one might prove useful. You can buy smoke grenades at any paintball pro shop, and the rental station at your nearest paintball field will probably have them for sale as well. 

27. Keep your marker out of the mud

A dirty marker is a non-functioning marker ‒ so do everything you can to keep your marker clean and free of dirt.

Perhaps the worst place to drop your marker is in a patch of mud. The dark, grimy liquid will instantly infiltrate every opening in your marker, leaving you to deal with the messy cleanup.

If you do need to clean mud out of your paintball, I advise letting it dry and then using the steps listed in number 6. While it’ll take a fair bit longer than the average cleaning, you should be able to get the mud out in a relatively short time. 

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