Paintballs, Getting Shot, and Wearing Proper Protection

The number one question first-time paintballers have is not about the game itself. It's not about the gun. In fact, it's a much more personal and important question:

Paintball Hit

Does it hurt to get shot?

The answer to that question is a yes and no. Whether or not getting shot with a paintball hurts depends upon where on the body you get hit, what angle the ball strikes you at, how fast it was going, and of course, the distance between you and your enemy.

So yes, while getting shot can definitely hurt - and even leave marks - most paintball injuries occur when someone puts themselves in a bad position, tries to be a hero, or ends up getting ambushed by someone way too close by. And then there's always the hammerhead who shoots you at point-blank range instead of using the surrender rule. Gotta love those people.

The first time you play paintball you'll probably be wary of getting hit. You won't know what it feels like, and you'll wonder if you can take it. My best advice is not to worry about it, because you can. Most paintball hits feel like strong thumps or taps against your body, especially if you're wearing proper protective gear.

What is a Paintball Made of? What's Inside?

There are LOTS of different companies that make paintballs. They promise better speed, more breaks per hit, better accuracy, and some even offer better aerodynamics (there are even golf-ball dimpled paintballs now). All of them however, are made the same basic way.

Paint Ball Colors

Paintballs are made from a thin biodegradable gel, similar to bath beads or vitamin capsules. They break down easily in water, and they distort when exposed to high heat. For these two reasons, you always want to store your paintballs in a cool, dry place.

Each ball is molded from two halves, creating a small and almost invisible seam. Mutil-colored paintballs give a good visual on exactly how the two halves are brought together.

The inside of a paintball is a mix of water soluble substances and a non-staining dye. It's almost a paste, kind of like flour and water, and it's totally harmless. You can eat paintballs if you wanted to, although they taste bitter and horrible. In fact, some competitions even have fully-sponsored paintball eating contests with all kinds of prizes ranging from protection equipment to high-end markers.

Balls come in a variety of colors, both inside and out. The 'paint' color is usually something easily seen at long distances, such as yellow or orange. Green, blue, red... you'll see all the colors if you play enough, but the general rule is the brighter the better.

The outside of the balls can be any color, but that color might end up being important. Believe it or not, a paintball field makes most of its money selling you ammo. For this reason, many fields don't allow outside paintballs to be brought into play: they'd rather sell you their own. Each field will have their own specific color (both outside shell color and inside paint color), and they'll even change these colors up from week to week. Bringing your own paint to such fields can result in your shots not counting as hits or eliminations, and even getting thrown off the field until you buy a case of their balls.

Finally, paintballs come in "cases". A standard case will contain 2000 balls, usually in two bags of 1000 or four bags of 500. You can split a case with your buddy, or maybe even two buddies, but on a good day you'll go through more than half a case of paintballs depending upon the number of games played (and how quickly you get shot out of each game).

Getting Shot by a Paintball: Does it Really Hurt?

Back to the topic of getting shot, whether or not a paintball hurts depends mostly upon you. If you're worried about the impact of getting hit, take the following things into consideration while playing the game:

  • Protect Your Vital Areas
  • The most painful places to get hit in paintball are the hands, the neck, and the top of the head. The inside of the thigh is another bad one; those shots can sting like hell against that exposed, very sensitive flesh.

    Although not required, you'll always want to wear paintball gloves whenever playing. Be sure to get gloves that are comfortable, fit well, and allow you to pull the trigger rapidly and without issue. I'd also recommend gloves with additional padding or plastic protective armor on the back of the hand, as this part hurts more than ever.

    To protect the top of the head... don't crawl toward your opponent without cover. In my very first paintball game I thought it would be cool to crawl forward on my knees and elbows as if I were a real soldier in a real combat scenario. Bad idea.

    PaintBall Neck Welt

    This might work in the movies, but in real life when opponents are 50 yards away? It's a BIG mistake. In under a second I was slammed on the top of the head with five or six paintballs, and instinctively covered my head with my hands to protect myself from the continued bombardment.

    That of course was an even bigger mistake; I immediately got shot another half dozen times on the back of my hands (which were exposed and gloveless), and this hurt even more. My hands also turned yellow and purple over the next week or so.

    Finally, always protect your neck. Almost every paintball mask offers some form of flexible neck protection, and this will keep you from getting shot in the neck 99% of the time as long as you keep your head down. But tilt your head upward as if you're looking up into a tree? Suddenly you're exposing your neck and chin to being hit by paintballs... and as you can see from my buddy's photo to the right, neck shots can be VERY nasty.

  • Angled Shots Hurt Less
  • Getting shot directly (from someone straight in front of you) hurts more than a deflection shot from the side or flank; your body is absorbing more of the paintball's total velocity. The more angled your body is to the shooter, the better the chance of a paintball not breaking and bouncing harmlessly off you as well.

  • Don't Go Forward Without Cover
  • Overexposing yourself will get you shot more times than anything else. As a rookie paintballer, I've had games where I'd run out into the middle of the paintball field without any clue where I was going (or where the other team was). On many of those occasions I got lit up by four, five, even six people at once; getting shot from multiple angles and with multiple hits.

    Get caught out of position badly enough and you can get shot more in three seconds than you can in three hours of playing time. The game of paintball is ALL about position, so be sure you run for a nearby tree, bunker, or obstacle rather than advancing forward without any idea where you'll end up. Also learn to move with your teammates, to maximize flanking power and minimize the enemy team's opportunities to shoot you out. There is definitely safety in numbers.

  • Wear Loose-Fitting Clothing or Layers
  • Many people play paintball in the spring or fall, and in cooler climates. This enables them to wear sweatshirts, camouflaged jackets, or other forms of loose-fitting clothing. These clothing choices are great - paintballs hitting you will break less often as the cloth absorbs much of the impact.

    Layered clothing is another good idea. Two or three layers of protection on your chest, torso and legs can go a long way toward limiting paintball bruises and welts.

    In the summer this is harder to do - playing the game can get you brutally hot - but keep in mind that the less exposed flesh the better off you'll be. Sleeves are a good idea as well. I've played far too many games with my forearms and even my upper arms exposed, and those hits can hurt a lot more than body shots do.

  • Buy Paintball Protective Gear
  • If you're serious about playing on a regular basis, or want to be totally prepared your first time playing paintball, protection is available. Padded shirts are sold with extra protection in vital areas. Paintball chest and torso protectors wrap around the body to protect both front and back, and the same goes for leg and thigh gear.

    And if you buy nothing else? GET GLOVES! During the game, you'll be surprised at how often you get hit in the hand. Whenever you're firing at someone your gun-hand is exposed, along with your fingers, forearm, and shoulder. You'll be shot there more than you realize.

    Check below for a full list of paintball gear and protective wear you can use to minimize the impact of getting hit.

Ultimately, let's face it: you can't play the game without getting shot. Paintballs are going to hit you, and some of them are going to hurt. A good day of paintballing will send you home with bumps, bruises, cuts, scraps, and even a few nice paintball welts. But you know what? That's all part of the overall experience.

All paintball warriors from the best to the worst will have horrendous stories of getting caught in a bad firefight, and battlescars to prove they were there. If you don't want the scars, pad up! The bruises and welts however, are mandatory.

Paintball Gear