What is the Best Paintball Mask?
In the sport of paintball, when confronted with a question of what is best, there is often no “right” answer; players will usually defend their favorite brand or manufacturer. This holds for paintball guns, clothing, paint, and especially masks.
So how do you choose the right one? All masks must be put through rigorous testing, and are all universally safe for the sport, but there are other factors that go into choosing the right mask. Below is a table that provides insight into a wide range of paintball masks, and several qualities that further define what each mask is like.
Ultimate Paintball Mask Comparison Table
|Tippmann Valor||Cheap||Cheap, Sturdy, Simple.||There's a reason this mask is so cheap. Low quality foam and a lack of customization make this mask boring and uncomfortable for long days of play.||Large||A good beginner or rental mask, not for those who want to move up in the sport, but great for those who play paintball occasionally and don't want too much money tied up in it.|
|JT Flex 8||Medium||Stylish and sleek, with JT's legendary comfort and visibility.||Rigid body design and a difficult lens-changing system.||Medium||JT has been making paintball masks since the 80's, and the Flex 8 line, introduced in 2005, brought a radical new look to paintball headwear, along with offering an optional full-head cover for added protection. A solid mask for any player.|
|JT Proflex||Medium||Ultimate customization, trade value, comfort, and visibility. Flexible bottoms add extra chance of "bounces."||The Proflex may feel too large for some players, and the profile is fairly boxy.||Medium||The Proflex (and it's older brother, the Flex 7) is by far JT's, and perhaps paintball's, most legendary mask. There exists an entire subculture dedicated to trading and discussing "Flex" masks. Comfortable, light weight, and with a thermal lens as standard, the Proflex is a truly awesome mask.|
|V-Force Grill||Medium||Great ventilation for long, hot days, a close fit to the face, and a mean look.||Lenses scratch easily (even dual pane), and the Grill is bigger than it feels. Your voice echoes slightly inside the mask.||Large||The V-Force Grill is used by several professional teams, which should tell you enough about the build quality. This mask fits in-between an i4 and a Proflex when it comes to the feel on your face, but from the outside, it's rather wide and, well, easy to shoot.|
|Sly Profit||Expensive||Nice, tight feel with ample foam.||Poor ventilation and acoustics; make sure your teammates speak up.||Small||The Profit is a controversial mask; you either love it or hate it. The foam is comfortable and the field of vision is good, but many players complain of overheating and not being able to hear properly. In the end, try one on before you buy, or better yet, play with one.|
|Empire E-Flex||Expensive||The most spacious and comfortable mask out there, with JT's innovative flex bottoms. Great FOV and ventilation.||Like the Proflex, this mask may feel very large for some players, and the big lens is open for ample scratches.||Medium||A collaboration of JT and Empire technology, the E-Flex combines JT's flexible bottoms and overall profile with Empire's E-Vent System to provide maximum breathability, visibility, and bouncing. This mask is arguably the most comfortable out there, while still retaining a relatively low profile shape. Perfect for those with larger heads.|
|HK KLR||Expensive||Close-fitting and very customizable, lens swapping is a breeze, as is cleaning.||Fits a very particular player, parts don't feel very sturdy. Very small.||Small||HK's new, and only, goggle system. It's sleek and angled faces reduce chances of a break, and it's got lots of color options. However, it's arguably the smallest mask available, and should definitely be tried on before purchase.|
|Virtue VIO||Expensive||Great build quality, good ventilation, and small profile.||Has a longer nose section which may be uncomfortable, and may even cause fogging.||Small||Another new entry into the mask market, the Virtue VIO is a small, sleek, and comfortable mask with multiple customization options. It fits a smaller-sized head, and there have been complaints concerning how it rests on your nose, but the VIO has great coverage considering its size.|
|Dye i4||Expensive||Small, solid, and viciously styled. good acoustics, both in and out.||Like the KLR, very small. Rigid design means no bounces.||Small||A classic of tournament players, the i4 focuses on tight, low-profile play, where you need the minimum of extra material hanging off of you. the i4 breathes well, and allows you to hear even distant calls, but don't be surprised when you get shot in the Adam's apple; this mask has no extra coverage.|
*Almost every mask has different color options (Limited Editions, mostly) that bump up the list price.
Let’s talk about the “profile” of a mask before we move on to which mask is right for you.
In the above table, you’ll notice a column labelled “profile.” There are other ways to describe a mask’s profile (thin, wide, short, etc.), but “small-large” is the best range to describe the general profile.
Now, what is profile, exactly? It’s the total area that a mask occupies in your vision from different angles. This comes in handy when you’re playing an aggressive type of paintball, such as speedball, where your mask and gun are (or, at least, should be) the only things visible outside your bunker. In this case, a small front profile would be most useful, a you’re mostly going to get shot in your front. A small profile mask allows you to see from behind cover without exposing unnecessary amounts of mask that can get shot. Remember, on most fields, a hit on any of your gear is an elimination.
So, what profile do you want? What profile do you need? Smaller profile masks are generally used for speedball, although that’s not a rule. If you plan on playing in the woods (woodsball or mil-sim/scenario), then the profile isn’t as important. In that case, comfort should take precedence, but we’ll discuss how to choose the right mask later.
What Makes a Mask a Mask?
There are four parts to each and every paintball mask. Their shapes and colors change, but their functions remain the same. they are the:
Lens/Frames: The lens is the most important part that you’ll never see, until it saves you from taking a paintball in the eye. The lens obviously stops paint, but also keeps dirt and smoke out of your eyes. There are several types of lenses, including single-pane and thermal. Lenses can have special tints, like mirrored and smoke, and recently have started being increasingly UV resistant. The frames are simply what holds the lens onto the rest of the mask. Some masks have integrated frames, such as the Profit, while others have removable and swappable frames, like the Proflex.
Bottoms: As the name implies, the bottoms of the mask are everything below the lens. Bottoms wrap around to the sides to cover your entire chin and parts of your neck. The bottoms also include any nose and cheek protection. The bottoms house almost all of the ventilation, as that’s where your mouth and nose will breath out, so they have meshed areas or slots, angled away to prevent direct contact with the paint, to allow the mask to breath with you.
Ears: Also called ear-pieces, the ears of a mask may be soft or hard, tall or short, but are there solely to keep paintballs from hitting either in or on your ear. They must be open enough to allow you to hear calls and shots, while still keeping your ears safe. These can usually be swapped out, except in rare cases, such as the Profit and Flex 8.
Strap: The strap is one of the more flavorful parts of the mask. Practically, it holds the mask to your head, and should first and foremost be able to do just that. However, past its practical use, straps are often used to personalize the mask. Rare or collectible straps are often traded for upwards of $100, but there are hundreds of other options out there for any price range or color combination you need.
So, with all that technical information out of the way, let’s look at how to proceed in your search for a paintball mask.
Choosing the Perfect Mask
Now that you have both a selection of popular mask systems and the information behind them, it’s time to pick a mask.
First, obviously, is your budget. Paintball is an expensive sport; no other sport has you buying new balls every time you play, let alone entire boxes of them. So pick a price range that you want to stick to, and go from there.
Next, it’s important that you decide which style of paintball you wish to play. Not all masks are suited for all types of play, and it’s important to be comfortable in order to enjoy the sport. For example, in a day-long scenario game, where you’re crawling through the woods for hours without water or rest, you want comfort and space to breath inside your mask. You really won’t need to worry about having a minimal profile as the enemy is going to have multiple acres to flank you, and at that point, a low profile isn’t going to help as much as a calm operator, so finding a mask with good foam and ventilation is key.
This leads into the final point. Pick the mask that you like, the mask that feels good on your face. If, for example, you try on a mask and notice that foam itches, don’t use it. Comfort should always surpass style when buying any paintball gear. You know what looks cooler than an itchy mask with a skull painted on it? Your team winning because you weren’t jamming your fingers up there to scratch your face. All kidding aside, it’s a serious point; the mask has to work for you. that means no fog, good peripheral vision, good acoustics, and a comfortable fit.
In the end, the most important piece of advice is to try different masks on, and, if you can, actually use them in a game. It’s by far the best way to find which mask is best for you.
So there you have it! a complete guide to selecting your next mask system! Remember, there are dozens of other masks out there that aren’t listed here, but these are some of the newest and most popular selections on the market. So get out there, try some on, and get on the field!