How to Play Paintball – The Ultimate Guide

The game of paintball originated in the USA, although it has been played in the UK for over 25 years. It is a game of strategy and has become more and more popular since it was invented way back in the 1980’s. Today, it is thought to be one of the fastest growing sports in the UK. The game has developed into a worldwide recognized sport which has enthusiasts coming from all walks of life to play it. It is also one of the few sports where your target does not stand still, but actually comes after you!


What is paintball?

Simply put, paintball is a game which was developed in the early 80’s whereby players eliminate their opponents by hitting them with paintballs which are filled with colored dye, oil and gelatine. They are normally shot from a compressed air powered marker. The game is often played as a supplement to military training and by law enforcement agencies, and often used by the military forces. It may also be played as part of riot control tactics and response. Sometimes it is used as a non-lethal suppression of dangerous attacks. Paintball is not legal in every country, so if you want to play the game, do check and be sure. In most areas where it is played you will find that appropriate dress is required and game rules strictly enforced.

History of paintball

Paintball began as a simple game involving a wager between some city street boys and outdoor huntsmen. They wagered each other as to who had the better skills when it came to the hunter becoming the hunted. This was back in 1981.

Hoping to keep the game as safe as they could while still being competitive, they found a spray paint gun which was used by farmers to mark animals for breeding purposes. The spray paint guns could be used to tag individuals without harming them.

Officially, the first game was held on June 2nd, 1981. Friends competed against each other on 100 acres of wooded area. One of the first players was Bob Jones, who at the time was a Sports Illustrated Writer. He published an article highlighting the sport and that was the beginning of national interest!

By today’s standards, the first games were very crude, with very limited firearms and ammunition, and with players even resorting to throwing paintballs at each other. However, as equipment improved so the intensity and competitiveness also grew. Paintball is an extremely competitive sport now.

Paintball is a relatively new sport which has become popular. The initial idea was to create a situation of outdoor hunting and survival. Simply put, it was designed as a way to stalk and hunt human prey.

After the introduction of the sport to the public, via Sports Illustrated, interest grew rapidly and one of the original players founded the new sport called the National Survival Game. The Nelson Paint Company became the official distributor of the guns and all equipment related to the new game.

Quickly rival manufacturers came on the market and promoted better paintball pellets and equipment. The original technology changed as a front pump was added to the guns for easy cocking. The 12 gram cartridges were replaced with tanks which supplied a constant source of air.

Competitive tournaments have become a part of the game and been going on since almost the beginning of the sport. The first recognized tournament was held in 1983 and was in Canada.

The paintball itself has altered over time. In the beginning the balls were oil-based but today they are filled with a mixture of gelatine and vegetable oil. Dye is added to this. They are also available in ‘glow in the dark’, scented and cold weather balls.

The very first games were different from those played today in the modern hunt. Nelson guns were the only ones which were available and they had CO2 cartridges which only lasted 12 rounds. They had to be cocked after every shot, which placed players at a disadvantage while they waited to reload the gun. It was also very tiring to keep cocking the gun before use.

Who can play?

The question of who can play paintball depends on the country where the game is being played. This varies so you need to check this requirement. Some countries have rules that players must be 18 years or more, while others have no age limits at all. Possibly the deciding factor is who can play will be the insurance company who allows players to play the game. In the USA, the age is 10 or 12 years. This will vary per country and insurance company.

Apart from the legal age to play the game, you should consider the maturity of the player. Remember that the aim of the game is to hunt your opponent and then technically destroy his. Be sure that the child is mature enough to understand this aspect of the game.

It is usually not recommended that children under 12 years participate in the game, purely for psychological reasons. As children get older they will be more able to understand the rules and the safety of the game, enjoy the sport and not panic when they are hit by a paintball.

The Sporting Goods Association estimates that approximately 10 million Americans now play the sport annually. The game continues to draw fans and players because it is a fun and competitive sport which also focuses on teamwork and the spirit of adventure.

How to play

Originally developed as an outdoor sport, today, paintball is played in outdoor and indoor fields. The game can be played with any number of people, but paintball is generally a friendly competition, typically played with 2 teams of about 5-12 people.

Each player has a mask to protect face, eyes and ears. Players shoot balls at each other and leave a stain when they are hit. There is not normally any skin breakage. The paint is biodegradable, non-toxic and normally washable.

Normally the aim of the game is to capture something before the other team.

Different types are:

  1. Central Flag: One team attempts to capture the flag before the other team gets it.
  2. Two Banners: The teams set out to capture each other’s flags.
  3. Speedball: this variation has a centre flag or two flags in the field.
  4. Hyperball: this variation has a centre flag or two flags, and many obstacles. This type is normally used in tournaments.
  5. Super Air Ball: this has many obstacles with two flags and is normally standard for a competition.
  6. Elimination: this is where you (or your team) sets out to completely eliminate the other team. Last man standing is the winner.

Some fields will need a parent or guardian to sign a waiver if you are under 18 years of age. After this has been done you will receive any paintballs that you have bought. You will find that a case typically holds 2000 rounds and bags hold 500 rounds. Most fields sell paintballs by either the bag or the case. Occasionally they will sell them in smaller quantities.

Where to play

Paintball can be played either indoors or outdoors. The game field – or area – should be scattered with obstacles, either artificial or natural, which players use for tactical cover. There are paintball arenas all over the USA and many in other countries as well. There are groups and clubs set up which you can join or compete, if you want to.

Depending on the type of game you play, it will take between a few hours to even days in scenario play.

What to wear

Normally the first question a new player asks is ‘will it hurt if I get shot?’ and the second is ‘what do I wear?’ It does not normally hurt if you get shot, and your clothing is designed to protect you. Here are some suggestions as to what you should wear.

  • Long pants, and long sleeved shirts.
  • Sweatshirts and sweatpants are perfect, layers if you are playing outdoors.
  • Camouflage or dark colors
  • Garments loose enough to not restrict any movement.
  • Clothing you don’t mind ruining or getting dirty.
  • Combat boots or running sneakers.

It is a very good idea to have a little skin exposed as possible. A paintball hit on a bare arm will sting like a rubber band snapping on you. Things like t-shirts are not a good idea. Dark colored sweatshirts, long sleeved t-shirts and paintball designed jerseys are perfect. The thicker the clothing, the less likely the paintball will break and eliminate you. The shots will also sting less on clothing than on bare skin.

Long pants will stop your legs from getting scratched by thorns and twigs and protect from rocks and dirt. Often short pants are not permitted. It is a good idea to have padding on your knees for when you crawl around on the ground.

Ideally you should wear clothing that covers arms and legs fully. Occasionally some fields will not allow shorts. While it may go against the grain to wear long sleeves and long bottoms while you will be active, remember that the clothing is going to act as a barrier between your skin and the paint. Even though the paint is non-toxic, it may be difficult to wash off after some length of time.

Occasionally when you are hit with a paintball you may develop a welt on your skin. You will find that layers of clothing will reduce this. The rule of thumb is to wear as many layers as you possibly can, and still run or move freely.

Layers of clothing are important especially if you are playing outside, as you never know if the weather will change.

Bring a change of clothes. If you are playing outside, it is very likely you will get wet or dirty. Even if you are playing inside, you will probably get a paintball hit and will be left with splattered clothes. If you plan on going anywhere after your game, then bring extra clothes to change into.

A strategical point for wearing more layers is that soft materials will mean that less paintballs break when they impact you and therefore increase your chances of winning if you are not hit.

Bear in mind that dark or camouflage clothes are less easily seen. Wear old clothes that can get dirty and blend in with your surroundings to avoid being seen. Bright colors are not a good idea because you will find you stand out very well! Most of the paint which is used is washable, but you may be left with staining so leave your good clothes at home and come prepared to get dirty.

Loose fitted clothes mean you can move easier and move freely.

Shoes are possibly one of the most important items of clothing in this sport. Ankle injuries are very common and if you can prevent them, you stand a better chance of winning. Army boots or hiking boots are sensible choices as the ankles are protected and supported. You should never wear open toed shoes or sandals. This is a quick way to break a toe or rip off a toenail.

Wear shoes that you are comfortable in and can run about in. Don’t opt for a brand new pair, unless you are certain that you will not get blisters from wearing them to run about in. Also, make sure you don’t mind them getting dirty. Try your shoes out before you get to the field to make sure you can run in them and not slip. It is a good idea to bring another pair for when you drive home.

Bring a bag for your dirty clothes. A plastic rubbish bag is perfect so that the paint marks do not touch any decent bag, as they will stain.

Although not clothing, you should consider bringing some food and definitely bring enough water. You will be running, jumping and avoiding hits for quite some time, so it is essential that you do not become dehydrated or weak without food. Snack bars are a good idea as they can be carried in pockets. Do not take any chocolate as this will just melt and become inedible. Dried fruit or trail mixes are a good idea as they do not spoil as you run about. Water is the most important item. You should also make sure that you have water for after the game. You should bring this in as you may not be able to get water at the field. Keep a cool box in your car with some bottles on and a few snack bars for when you are finished playing.

Safety and Protective wear
As with many sports, there is a risk of injury with paintball. There are some things that you can do to decrease the risk of injury. You may want to consider the following:

  • Goggles: most paintball fields will rent goggles to you. They act as a safety mask and should cover your face and ears. Sometimes they will have a visor which should cover your forehead. If you wear contact lenses or glasses then you should definitely consider goggles or a visor of some sort to protect your eyes from any paint splatters. Most fields will insist that you wear genuine goggles which have been designed to do the job.
  • Hat: Bearing in mind that a paintball travels at anything between 250 and 280 feet per hour, it stands to reason that if one hits your head, it is going to hurt. Often people will wear baseball hats or winter woolly types which are a very good idea as they protect the top and back of your head. If you get hit on your head, you will have coloured hair until you get home and wash it out, so a hat of some sort will protect from this. Protecting your head is very important, you do not want to become disorientated because you have been hit. While most players do not aim specifically for the head, you may well be hit there while running. Having a hat on will not only take the force of the hit but also give you some protection against hits.
  • Gloves: Hands are the part of the body that will take the most hits. If your opponent can hit your hands, he will put you off your aim. Hands also have very tender spots on them, especially when hit at close range so be prepared to guard them! Fingers which are hit will be very tender and may leave you unable to pull your own triggers. You may even break a finger and lose the game because of this. Gardening gloves, golf gloves, football gloves, and workout gloves are all good types to choose. They will make crawling about on your hands and knees easier. They will also take some of the pressure of being hit on the hand, which will hurt, because fingers are fragile things and bruise easily. New players should use any type of gloves which allow for full movement of the fingers. Thick winter gloves, or latex gloves should be avoided as they can be too thick to handle the trigger easily.


The more you play paintball, the more you will find things that you might need, but here is a list of items which make up a good selection of necessities for beginner paintballers.

  • Complete set of clean clothes for going home in.
  • Plastic bag to take all used clothes home in.
  • Plenty of drinking water.
  • Snack bars if it is going to be a long day.
  • Towels to clean off your equipment.
  • Waterproof jacket.
  • Hat of some sort.
  • Cash. Not every field takes credit cards! Often there are no cash machines.
  • Do a weather check 24 hours before you go.

Tips for beginners

Never be afraid of the paintball. Getting hit hurts a lot less than you think it does. While it may sting and perhaps leave a mark, you will forget about it in a few minutes with all the excitement of the game. A common thing that beginners do is to hide behind trees. This is a fairly boring way to spend tour first paintball game and also sets you up for a likely target. Better players will move around a lot more to get into good positions and this will leave you at a disadvantage. Don’t forget – the bullet is only paint! If you are worried, then make sure you wear another layer of clothing as well as cloves.

Masks on at all times in the zone. This ensures your eyes and face are always protected. This is the first rule and the importance of it should be obvious to you. By keeping your face protected, you will be able to enjoy the game knowing your eyes are protected. Also, you should not take the mask off until you are off the field.

Don’t give away your position. If you take a shot, expect to get a volley of shots in return and by doing this you will draw attention to yourself. Don’t waste your paintball by firing at a target that is too far away or in deep cover. Instead, stay quiet and wait until you are in a better position to take the shot. Only take the shot if you can see tour opponent and know that you have a good chance of tagging them. Another good reason to take the shot is if you know your opponent is behind cover and you want your teammate to move closer. Taking a few shots will keep him down while your teammate moves in.

Spotting your opponent is your advantage. If you can’t see him, you can’t beat him. New players are often tempted to keep hidden, but this allows the enemy players to surround you before you can move. The three second rule means that you should take three seconds to scan the area. It will take one second for you to be noticed, another second for them to take aim, and one more second for them to hit you! So, do a scan in three seconds!

Don’t expose more than you must. When you pop up for a look, you should try to expose as little as possible. Ideally you want to pop up just far enough to see and fire. Try to just spot with your eye level instead of lifting your whole body up. Remember that any movement will attract attention so keep movements smooth, slow and in control. Only show what you absolutely have to, and then disappear as soon as you can.

Talk to your teammates. You need to communicate to win in this game. This way you will also share your knowledge with the team. By doing so, you will be able to devise a plan such as allocating players to different positions on the field for a more effective attack. Remember to whisper you plan, not yell it out because that will just be asking for trouble. Try to have a teammate cover anyone who runs into the open.

Don’t call yourself dead unless you are sure. When you get hit by a paintball it will either break or it will bounce. If it breaks you will be out, but if it bounces you are still in the game. Many new players assume that because they feel a hit, they are dead. Make sure that it has broken before calling ‘dead’. It can also look as if you’ve been hit if a paintball bursts near you and has splattered you with paint. In most fields this does not count and you should not surrender. If you are in any doubt, call a referee to check to be sure.

Eyes on the prize. Each game has a different goal and a different prize. Make sure you know what it is. It may be such things as defending certain positions, capturing a flag or even rescuing a hostage. It is a good idea to decide on a team captain, make a plan, and work with your team to achieve the goal. Keep the end goal is mind and work your plan around it. Make sure that all your teammates know what the goal of the game is and that they are all in agreement with the strategy.

Think two moves ahead. Try to plan your cover and avoid choosing a dangerous place. You may find yourself pinned down and be surrounded by the enemy. If you do find yourself pinned down, it is a good idea to shout to your team and see if they can give you fire coverage to get to a safe place.

Enjoy the game! Remember that the primary reason you are playing the game is because it is fun! Even though it can be daunting for new players, it is the total fun side that brings people back again and again. Enjoy yourself!

Strategies, tactics and drills

Single Player Strategies
As a solo player, or a part of a FFA (free for all) match you should remember three words. These are cover, mobility and confidence. These three words are the ways and means for a single person to take full advantage of his opponents. It is these three words which will keep you alive for longer. They are also vital during team play and they will ensure that you have a good game with minimal tactical knowledge.

Staying behind cover – whether it is trees, bushes or ditches – is the easiest way to avoid being hit. Stay away from scant cover, try to aim for dense shrubs and thick trees if possible. Plan your route from one good cover to the next and try to avoid the open spaces. This will mean that your opponents will have to work harder to kill you.

Just as taking cover is important, so is keeping mobile and on the move. If you stay in one place too long you will allow the enemy to locate you and possibly flank you. Even when you find yourself in a building you should keep moving around. Occasionally it is to your advantage to run out from your cover firing at approaching enemies. They will need to dodge your bullets before being able to take accurate shots at you.

You should try to temper your confidence, too much confidence will lead to you overexposing yourself, while under confidence will lead you to panic and possibly get yourself killed. While the game of paintball is fast and furious, it is also a game of strategy. There is no luck involved with this game. You must always check behind for enemies, and never make rash decisions when you have a little time to consider other options.

Team Strategies
Playing as a team needs excellent communication between all the members as well as co-operation between the players. You should decide how gets to make the decisions and then stick to the plan. When you first start playing, it is a good idea to play with people you know and appoint team leader from amongst your friends. Make sure every player knows their role and what the outcome is.

FFA (free for all) tactics
One different game is where one player of the team acts independently from the rest of the team. You still aim to achieve the team goal but you move on your own with no communication with the rest of your team. The most important thing is for you to avoid friendly fire between both teams. Discussion is vitally important with this type of play as it normally ends with a last man standing player. This means that discussion with your team is of prime importance beforehand.

Drills to improve paintball skills

  • Box drill: Place a box at the 50 yard mark. The goal is to start to shoot at the box. If you hit the box, change hands and repeat with the other hand. If you miss, touch up and use the same hand again until you hit it and can change to the other hand.
  • Snap shooting: You can think of this as the way cowboys shoot – from the hip. It is the fastest way to get a few shots off in rapid succession. A snap shot does not need you to sped a lot of time aiming, but it is the best drill to improve your reflexes. Find a safe place and set up a variety of different targets about 100 feet from your body. Move to within 25 feet of the first one and fire off five or six shots rapidly, then move on to the next. Don’t worry if you miss, just continue with the routine and you will improve this skill.
  • Shooting while moving: If you ask any professional paintball player, they will say that this is the most important skill. The easiest way to improve your skills at this is to set up a stationary target and shoot at it while you run in different directions. Make sure that you also change the speed at which you run. Once you have mastered this skill, then you should try to shoot at the target while moving backwards.
  • Leapfrogging: This is a technique which is used to progress as a team towards a target. One person advances to a spot and then stops and covers while the next person advances and goes a little further. The first person then picks up again and advances further, and so the pair carry on until they have reached the target. The more practise you get at this, the more you stand to win. This must be practised with your partner so you are both familiar with each other’s speeds.

Some tactics

  • Aiming: Unless you are exceptionally good at firing from the hip, you will be unlikely to hit anything and your pellets will fly all over the place. You will find that the gas bottle on the gun forms the perfect stock which fits into your shoulder to keep your gun steady. If you then look along the top of the barrel you will have a good idea where your bullets will go. If the bullet drops short, then you must aim a little higher. And if it flies over the top, then drop a little lower. This process is called walking your pellets as you adjust as you walk towards the target. You will find that you will be able to get two or three bullets in the air at the same time.
  • Leave pellets on the floor: Even though you can collect and re-use your paint pellets, it is not a good idea to do this. They will often result in a jammed gun. The gelatin shell absorbs water very quickly and this means that the pellets become soft or start to swell and will not fit into the gun barrel. Better to leave them and focus on the goals of your game. Do not waste your time trying to collect them and then risk being hit.
  • Make sure you have enough gas: Paintball guns are powered by carbon dioxide gas. Each gun has a gas tank that will give you approximately 800 shots. When you get low on gas you will notice that your shots start to fall short and loose speed. You should call a marshal and if needed have a new gas tank fitted. A common error to make is to dry fire your gun when you walk back from a game. If you dry fire your gun 50 times after each game you will find that you run out of gas sooner. Your gas tank has an on/off valve which you should not fiddle with because it does not make your gun any more powerful but only stops the gas reaching the valve which results in low or no power.
  • Rapid fire: Most guns can fire between 5 – 8 shots a second, but in all the excitement most players may only fire 3 a second. Unless you are used to rapid firing you will be very slow at first. Rapid firing is not essential but it does serve a purpose. If you are battling with it, try using your middle finger instead of your index finger. This tends to be stronger and quicker. Make sure that the pellets are feeding into the gun. You need gravity to get the pellets flowing from the hopper and into the gun breach. If the gun is on its side, they will not flow so be sure to hold your gun upright.


As with any sport, there are rules and regulations which must be followed in paintball. Some of them are very obvious, but they are all important. Failure to obey the rules may mean that you are fined or banned from the field.

  • Safety goggles: these must be worn at all times. Only goggles which are designed for paintball are allowed. As soon as a player leaves the registration area the goggles must be put on. They must not be removed until the players are back at registration.
  • Shooting at the head and neck: this is not allowed. Neither is blind firing allowed. You must never fire intentionally at your opponent’s head, neck or face. You must always be looking at your opponent when you fire at him.
  • Shooting at wildlife: don’t do this!
  • Shooting in the parking areas: no shooting is permitted in neutral areas or in parking areas. Guns should never be discharged anywhere other than specific areas.
  • Barrel covers: these are required and must not be removed unless you are at the target area or told to do so by a referee. If you lose a cover, you should point your gun to the ground and call a member of staff.
  • Physical contact: players must not touch another player or their equipment.
  • Guns: these must shoot less than 280 FPS
  • Alcohol or drugs: these are not permitted.
  • Surrender: if your opponent wants to surrender, you must allow him to do so.
  • Unauthorised equipment: you may not bring any equipment onto the field which is deemed to be harmful or unsafe. Knives of any size, tools of any kind, paint grenades, pyrotechnics, smoke grenades or any type of explosive are prohibited.
  • Smoking: smoking is never allowed in the field.
  • Behaviour: verbal abuse and unsportsmanlike conduct will not be tolerated. Players will be ejected for name calling, fighting or profanity, and inappropriate behaviour.
  • Rental equipment: do not disassemble. If there is a problem with equipment, you should call a member of staff.
  • Referees decision: in a competition, or dispute, the referees’ decision is final. Players are not allowed to argue with referees. If you disagree, then you may ask for clarification after the game.

Benefits of paintball

Even though this is classed as an extreme sport, it is still very popular with people of all ages. It can be enjoyed with friends and family or with work colleagues. It is so popular because it is so simple. You need to be in relatively good shape to start, although you can build up to a better level of fitness over time. Once you have the correct gear, you are ready to go.
In an article in Extreme Sports about the benefits of paintball you will read that it is more than just a game. It also involves strategy planning, tactics and energy.

  • 1. Adds variety to a workout: If you do not have time to get into the gym every other day, then this is a great way to get fit and stay in shape. It’s an alternative to running on the treadmill of doing cardio on the bikes. Paintball provides an excellent workout with a range of movements like running, climbing and weaving in and out. It is something that you can do with friends to keep in shape together and is a great way to shake up a familiar exercise routine.
  • 2. Full body workout: Because the game involves crawling, sprinting, dodging in and out and shooting, it means that you get a full body workout every time you play it. Paintball offers a unique way to tone up and get fit without even realising that you are doing it.
  • 3. Increases endurance: This game will give your cardiovascular workout a huge boost simply because of the amount of time spent running and jumping around.
  • 4. Increases strength: You will need to be fast yet accurate even while you are running around with a gun and the other safety gear. You will find that your legs get a lot stronger from this. Your arms will benefit from all the shooting that you do and your core muscles will be toned with carrying all your equipment. This is a great way to condition your whole body.
  • 5. Weight loss and general health: Just because of all the running around that you will do, you will find that you lose some weight. Because it is an intense exercise you will find that your sleep improves and your metabolism gets a boost. Because it is so physical your body will release endorphins which help to elevate moods.
  • 6. Promotes teamwork: To win a game of paintball it is essential that you become part of the team. Your team must work together to plan attacks and strategies. Often, the game is used by people in offices to build teamwork.
    In an article by Armourgeddon about team building you will find that the sport promotes communication between players and is a great way to put yourself and colleagues to the teamwork test.
  • 7. Outdoors is healthy: Just being in the fresh air boost your mood and immunity. Studies show that group walks are linked to enhanced mental health. They also lower the risk of depression and lessen the feelings of stress. People who bicycle, run or walk outdoors have a lower risk of mental health issues than people who worked indoors all the time.
  • 8. It’s fun! Every one of us likes to win, and this game is the chance to shine at winning! It’s a fun way to spend an afternoon, and shooting at opponents with paint brings out the fun side in most people. It is truly a great way to spend time with friends.
  • 9. Increases self-confidence: Although paintball is a team sport which requires a plan and an execution, it can only be successful if all the team pulls together. It promotes a team spirit and can improve your leadership skills. It is a very good way to boost self-confidence.
  • 10. Stress relief: Physical sports are one of the best ways to vent your frustration without hurting other people. The simple act of venting frustration removes stress. The endorphins which are released during physical exercise help to eliminate stress and enhance a sense of well-being.
  • Toys for paintballers

    Here is an excellent quality Gen-X Global GXG Paintball Lightweight Vest which is suitable for beginner paintballers.

    This pair of Empire Paintball X-Ray Single Lens Goggles is an essential item for any paintballer.

    For the paintballer looking for a different view, here is a pair of Dye Precision I4 Thermal Paintball Goggles that will be the envy of your friends.

    For added protection this TIPPMANN Paintball Chest Protector is just the thing!

    This superior quality Maddog Sports 4+1 Vertical Paintball Harness will be a great addition to your clothing for paintball.


    If you want a game that will not only give you a full body workout, but also a mental workout, then this is the game for you. It is a game that you can play with friends or take to competition levels. It’s a game of strategies and team efforts and is designed to bring out the leadership qualities in people. While it may be daunting in the beginning to have other people shooting at you, it is game where you can hone your survival skills and develop tactical planning. Challenging – it certainly is! Boring? This game will never be boring as every game is constantly changing and evolving. The outcome is never certain until the last man is left standing. If you love adventure and activity, then this is the game for you!