[Back to Tech Files]
For the majority of paintball players, winter
only lasts a few months at best, so some don’t even bother to play.
Here in Alaska, winter is fully half the year, so to forgo playing in the cold, means going six months between games! I don’t know about you, but I’d probably wither and end up playing Old Maid all day... You ever try to hook up a nitrogen system to a deck of cards? It ain’t easy. Anyway, on to the details.
First off, let’s get you ready for a days’ play. Depending on the outside temperature, during the course of a day, you’ll tend to overheat, then get chills from alternately running your tail off on the field, then standing around for fifteen minutes talking about it back in the safety zone. Smart players will dress in layers, so that as they warm up, they can take off one thin sweater or windbreaker, or if they skip a game, they have a spare jacket ready to ward off chills. It’s also a good idea to pick up a handful of thin, inexpensive work gloves. When one pair gets wet from snow or perspiration, pull out another set. Keep your hands warm and dry, and the rest of you will stay more comfortable as well. To top it all off, pick up a thin polypropylene hat or balaclava/facemask. You lose most of your body heat through the top of your head, so keep yer noggin warm, but not so warm you’ll sweat.
Footwear is very important, more so in the winter. Again, you want to keep your feet warm and dry, but not so warm your feet sweat. In Alaska, the most popular winter footwear are what’s known as “bunny boots”. They are great big, heavily insulated military workboots, that look like Mickey Mouse’s feet. They’ll keep your feet perfectly warm down to something like 70 below zero. Unfortunately, that’s a bit of overkill, since they’ll roast your feet like 7-Eleven hotdogs if it’s in the 20s. That and they are awful heavy.
It doesn’t matter whether you buy Sorrels or K-Mart specials, get a decent, mildly insulated pair of boots that fit, and most importantly, will keep your feet dry! Wet feet is my Number One gripe about playing in the snow, so much so, that I’ll bring an extra pair of boots and several pairs of warm socks to change out halfway through the day. Like the extra gloves, I put them in small plastic bags to keep them dry even if it’s snowing or raining.
Quick Tip: Depending, again, on the weather conditions, sometimes the playing field can get awfully slippery. For slushy conditions, try a boot with a good knobby ‘waffle’ pattern for grip. For slick ice, I’ve seen players use golf shoes and track cleats, but neither of these have any insulation whatsoever, nor ankle support. What I do, I have an old pair of insulated high top workboots, with a badly worn down sole. I bought $2 worth of 1/4” drive by 1/4” long hex-head sheetmetal screws. I used an electric screwdriver with a 1/4” socket to drive about thirty of these into each of the boots’ soles. I concentrated them at the toes and heel, but the entire bottom was covered. The short quarter-inch length wasn’t long enough to penetrate the thick cushioned sole of the boot, so my feet weren’t in any danger. If you try this, be 100% positive the screw won’t poke through. Anyway, with the screw-heads acting as studs, I had no trouble running or turning on slick, wet ice. Over the course of a full day’s play, I lost about a third or more of the screws off of each sole, but they’re cheap, and that gives you an idea how well they stick to the ice.
And, of course, remember to bring some light, easy to eat, high-energy foods, and bring plenty of fluids to drink. Keeping hydrated helps the body regulate temperatures better, so you minimize the overheated/chills cycle.
Okay, now let’s get your equipment up and running. Overall, most markers will still work reasonably well in the cold, with no special mods or treatment. However, at 20 degrees or so, most semi-autos will only get about fifty shots or so, before they shut down completely. You can improve on this a bit, by having two tanks; keep one in your car to warm up between games. At the end of each game, switch them out, so the cold one can warm up. I have also heard of players bringing a cooler full of hot water that they can dip their tanks in to rapidly warm them up. Of course, there’s the difficulty of carrying or storing a cooler of water, and the water will cool off by the end of the day, but if you can do it, it’s not a bad idea.
You can try chemical heatpacks, or ‘electric socks’, but I’ve found that they rarely put out enough energy to keep up with the fast cooling action of a Co2 tank. The best method I’ve found is to “supercharge” several chemical packs, and tape three or four to the tank, replacing them at the end of each game. Most disposable chemical packs generate heat by quickly rusting iron filings. The pack contains iron shavings, charcoal and usually a salt of some sort. When you open the pack, the ambient humidity provides enough moisture to start the iron oxidizing. This happens quickly, generating quite a bit of heat. You can “supercharge” them a bit, by opening the pack completely, and giving the ‘pillow’ inside a light squirt of water from a small spray bottle. Not too much, just enough to give the chemical oxidation a jump-start. Do three or four small ones this way, and tape them to the tank; they won’t solve the cooling problem, but they will help out a bit.
Of course, the best mod for winter play is a “nitrogen” or High Pressure Air system. These can be purchased for as low as $100, and they can be fitted to nearly any paintgun. However, not all fields have HPA supplies, and many players can’t afford even the inexpensive models. If your pocketbook can stand it, a nice, inexpensive route to HPA is to buy one of the less expensive systems, a used SCUBA tank, and your own fill-station. All told, you might have over $300 into the setup, but day-to-day use is as easy as a $5 SCUBA fill and a quick poof of HP air into the tank.
Finally, if your marker can take it, a very easy, very inexpensive way to improve your gun’s cold-weather performance, is to run it on liquid Co2. The conversion, in most cases, is as easy as installing a siphon tank, and your gun will run 300 fps, all day, every day, no matter how cold it is. No other equipment is needed, no regulators, no expansion chambers, no coily remotes. See our “Liquid Co2” tech article, elsewhere in this site.
To improve the marker’s performance, no matter what propellant you are using, use a thin, synthetic oil. Many oils, including most petroleum-based, and some Teflon-based, will get thick, or “gel” in the cold, and slow down the action. In some cases, it can thicken to the point the hammer can’t hit the valve hard enough to fire the gun. So, use a thin synthetic oil, and use it sparingly. Lube the gun lightly, and wipe off the excess.
Many paintballs will get somewhat more brittle in the cold, increasing the chance of breaking one in the gun. Carry a squeegee, even if you usually don’t, because the loose paint tends to turn to ‘slush’ and break the next couple of ‘balls fired. Some paint will actually get tougher in the cold, making it harder to break. Choose a paint that works well for your conditions. I’ve found RP Scherer’s Polar Ice works very well indeed; it’s accurate, and it breaks reliably even on thick fluffy coats, without breaking in the gun.
This is all very basic, but it’ll get you started on the road to year-round paintball!
Feel free to E-mail us if you have any questions.