Kitting Up

Turning up in jeans and a shirt might be ok for a trip to the shops, but if you want to be a sniper, you’re going to need the kit to do it. It’s usually thought of as the most expensive role, but really isn’t if you know what you’re looking for. Your kit should be minimal, lightweight and mobile to avoid slowing you down. It needs to work with you, not against you. Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t any more expensive than any other airsoft loadout, but it will require a bit more thought to get right. The two approaches you tend to see one the field are players that want to look cool for the photographer, and players that select kit that is effective in the field.  Lets start with the basics;

Getting dressed

Always a good idea, because getting shot naked will hurt (no, i haven’t tried). Ideally, you want to have some form of camouflage uniform to wear if nothing else. Surplus stores are a great place to start – you can pick up good quality kit for very little. Choose something loose fitting for better movement (tight, form fitting clothing that shows off that form isn’t what you want), and warm/cool enough for the climate you play in. Consider the colours that best match the environment too – see the guide on Getting Colours Right. The other consideration here would be time of year in some countries, primarily green in summer but brown in winter.

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Always factor in the weather where you play. And be prepared for it. If it’s hot, you may want to consider a lighter weight ghillie and lightweight, breathable clothing, plus plenty of water. In the UK, we have to deal with a lot of rain and mus, but that’s all part of the experience. Generally, cheap waterproof clothing is horrible plastic and pretty loud and that’s something we want to avoid, however I have seen these waterproof trousers in the local Decathlon store and they’re a much softer and quieter fabric – ideal for layering up underneath to keep your body dry (or drier). Another thing I use on a lot of my clothing is waterproof clothing spray. Now, it won’t make clothing waterproof that wasn’t waterproof before – there will be holes in the fabric and seams. BUT it does make water bead and run off quicker, so if stuff does get wet it won’t hold the water, and will dry out quicker. Always worth having some in your kit bag, and a spare set of dry clothes is a must. Especially if you travel in someone else’s car.

Next on the list will be some basic protection. Airsoft sites will insist on eye protection and boots as a minimum. Anything on top of that is optional, but it’s your responsibility. I always recommend a lower face mask. When shopping for boots, avoid black boots. Tan or brown will be easier to camouflage (you can use tan and dark brown spray paints to add a pattern). Look for waterproof boots, and ideally something thinner, especially on the sole, rather than stiff and heavy boots, so that you can feel the ground better when you’re trying to work your way quietly through it. As a sniper, you’ll be doing a lot of crawling around and getting into places most players won’t, so durability is important. You’ll be doing a lot more than most players. My first pair of boots for airsoft was a £30 pair of Miltec boots, that were extremely comfortable and lasted for 7 years. Price doesn’t always guarantee a good pair, it’s about getting a pair that fits the shape of your foot to be comfortable. My day job involves advising on sports footwear, and I can tell you an expensive pair that doesn’t fit properly will give you as many problems as a cheap pair that doesn’t fit properly.

A good pair of gloves is an absolute must, at the very least because you need skin covered up to hide, and as above with navigating difficult terrain. There are of course plenty of tactical gloves on the market, but an idea might be to look at a pair of Nomex style flight gloves like these instead. The longer cuff will compensate for those moments when your sleeve gets caught on stuff, keeping you better hidden and protected from scratches and stings. There are a lot of 3D camouflaged gloves available too, but we can adjust colours and add 3D camouflage ourselves. Much better to have a good pair of gloves!

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On top of the basics, ideally you want to look at adding some form of ghillie or camouflage system over the top. It’s not absolutely necessary, but it does give you a big advantage in your quest to stay unseen. It should always be remembered that a ghillie suit is a tool to help you – it’s not an invisibility cloak. One of the cheesiest phrases I hear often on YouTube videos now is “using the power of our crafted ghillie suits”. It’s not a power at all, and it doesn’t elevate your game if you don’t know how to use it. I’m not going to cover ghillie making in this section, there’s already a guide here at The Ghillie Guide. Whatever you do choose as your camouflage, avoid that “fresh new” look to your kit by giving it a good covering of mud. And don’t worry about washing it off afterwards!

Eye Protection

Mandatory for all airsoft games. In some countries you may be permitted to wear mesh goggles, which are preferred for camouflage because they can be painted and don’t reflect light like a plastic lens. Personally, I find it gets in the way of a clear view down the scope, so I run goggles but with a Lenskin from http://www.skirmshop.nl over the top, and with holes cut in the middle for eyes. Half camo, half clear vision, so a bit of both.

Loading up a rig

Being a sniper requires kit that will work, and survive a battering. Generally, I find surplus stuff which is obviously designed for heavy use in the real world is going to last a lot longer than something cheap and plastic that’s just designed for light airsoft and paintball use.

Even though we don’t carry a lot of kit, or shouldn’t plan to, it still needs to go somewhere because you don’t have four hands. Weapons aside, a typical game day I’ll carry:

  • 3-4 spare magazines for the rifle (it’s a VSR so mags are very small and easy to store)
  • Speedloader
  • Spare ammo in food bags, so it’s quieter and doesn’t rattle in a bottle. (To any BB manufacturers reading this – BAGS NOT BOTTLES!). Also, always buy good quality ammo. I use Hotshots and Longbow bb’s, and Geoffs and BLS are the only others I’d allow in my rifle. Cheap ones break apart inside the gun and are less accurate.
  • Secateurs or some kind of tool for cutting small branches, either to add natural camouflage or to cut gaps to shoot through
  • Small bottle of water boosted by hydration tablets (unless just a skirmish day, in which case I’ll only take on water before games, or at lunch, from the safe zone)
  • A small cloth to wipe scope if it gets too wet
  • Radio and earpiece
  • One smoke grenade, in case things go wrong
  • A mountain whistle in case I need someone to find me in an emergency

It’s not a lot, very much aided by a well thought out rifle choice that means I only have very small magazines to worry about, and I could realistically fit all of this into one large utility pouch, especially minus the bottle of water. I rarely carry grenades, because pyro and ghillie suits aren’t a great mix, and there’s a stealth issue there about letting bangs off. Smoke grenades are handy as a last resort, if you need some cover to break contact or a distraction.

Don’t worry about binoculars, use your rifle scope for that and as a bonus it means you’ve already got a weapon up on the target. Some people take compasses, maps, notebooks and pens etc, this will depend on the size of the site, your knowledge of it, and whether or not you’re part of a bigger team that wants intel gathered on enemy positions and movement. Though its sometimes better to send a picture on Whatsapp than try to explain things via your artistic skills…

I’ve done a few different rig setups down the years but always work on the same principle;

Everything I need in a hurry must be accessible from a prone position

Always work from the worst case scenario, this being the most restrictive shooting position you’ll find yourself in. “But you’ll usually be kneeling or standing to shoot anyway” some say. Maybe, but “usually” isn’t “always”. There WILL be times where you’re having to lie down, so set up for it. Practice before you buy by lying on the floor (not in public because it will look weird) and see where you can reach with as little movement as possible. The last full weekend sniping event I did at Sniperworks, I actually only used one magazine (20 rds) over two days. It’s not a lot really. This led me to think of all the things actually I need in a hurry during a game, which is basically ammo in a firefight. Instead, I’m experimenting with a simple backpack to carry everything in instead, with a buttstock pouch on the back of the gun for one spare mag and a cutting tool for vegetation, which is my quick access location. Anything else, I can access away from the action if need be (not exactly going to refill all 4 mags in a firefight, or sit and have lunch). There will always be a moment to take the rig off and get supplies out as needed. This means that everything is moved off the front, to help with crawling and laying prone. More details in this article.

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Avoid belt rigs like you would avoid eating an undercooked bat. Yes, this is what you typically see in computer games for “sniper” loadouts but this will require you swinging your arms round behind you (excess movement) to try and access stuff. Front of the belt? You’ll potentially be lying on it. Your legs as well are going to be doing a lot of work in terms of crawling and getting you moved around and into positions. Chest rigs are among the better options, as well as any old school harness type rigs that place pouches higher up or on your sides.

Chest rigs are very much in fashion at the minute, but we’re not playing CQB inside some warehouse filled with pallets. These modular tactical type chest rigs are great in the right environment, but certainly not for crawling through undergrowth. Forget all these modern elasticated pouches – an old school lid on the pouch will keep all the dirt out. And avoid velcro – that’s a sound that will get you into trouble in the field. You can of course always find old used pouches going for very cheap at surplus stores or on ebay. Old, rugged surplus rigs like this DPM chest rig are ideal. I have two of these, one in OD green and one in classic DPM and they’d probably fit a weeks worth of sniper kit in thanks to the roomy utility side pouches. It’s high on my kit list for longer or bigger events especially, and I have an LBT 1879 chest rig which splits in the middle to help with going prone, but that’s a bit more expensive, especially if you’re just starting out. Avoid Spanish clips on pouches and rigs.

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Brilliant piece of kit. Do tighten it up a little to raise it up on the body though.

The importance of Scapa tape

If you’re not familiar with it, Scapa tape is a cloth type, heavy duty, high adhesive tape used by the army. It comes in massive rolls, which will last a very long time, and is available in green and dark tan colour – though I have seen the green turn an awful turquoise colour. There are camouflage fabric tapes available too, but be careful to avoid any that state they cling to themselves because they barely stick to anything, let alone survive a day sniping. I always carry a roll in my kit bag because it has a lot of uses, but it’s especially useful when prepping your kit.

Noise is a problem. Any buckles, clips, sling mounts etc can be silenced and camouflaged easily with a bit of tape. It’s also helpful, once you’ve adjust any straps on your webbing, to roll up and tape any excess strapping, to prevent it trailing and getting caught anywhere. Wires for radios can be taped into place on the webbing if needed. Extremely versatile stuff, fabric tape also doesn’t reflect light or have a plastic sheen to it like some waterproof camo tapes, so it helps disguise flat plastic areas.

Weapons

Although you can technically play a recon role without, using a radio to monitor the enemy for your team, you’ll probably be wanting a weapon (or two).

The rifle here is the key piece of kit. The iconic bolt action rifle is a sniper’s weapon of choice (yes, you can run other weapons but there’s a good argument not to). I know a lot of players in airsoft who like pretty guns, to show to their friends or hang on the wall. Others are inspired by films to have a specific weapon, or some picture in a tactical magazine. Me? I paint, tape and glue stuff all over it anyway.

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The colours look a little off in this picture, but yes, my kitchen and dining room are both OD green.

The rifle is your primary tool, and to be effective, you should treat it like one. Don’t go for looks, choose the one that gives you the most advantages, because why wouldn’t you? I wrote an article on the many merits of the VSR platform, which you can read here, although has been around for a long time now and isn’t the most exciting thing to show to people but remains devastatingly effective. A lot of other platforms now are catching up to it in terms of performance though, and there are many more viable platforms now compared to ten years ago so I can’t go into too much detail in this article because new platforms will keep coming out. For me, the things I look at when buying a rifle are;

  • Minimalist design, to allow you to really get flat and lower your profile. Big protruding mags and pistol grips are an annoyance
  • Availability and cost of replacement and/or upgrade parts
  • Price (always a factor)
  • A long barrel – not performance, but the ability to hide inside bushes and have enough barrel to stick out of the other side without any chance of bb’s striking branches and leaves
  • Size of magazines (as above on the rigs section). They’ll need carried. The smaller the better
  • Power – gas/air/batteries will need carried and replenished. Gas adds long term cost to running the rifle as well as fluctuating performance, and does the site you’re have the facility to refill HPA systems? If you’re doing a weekend event, is there somewhere you can charge a battery?. Which is why I prefer the simple spring rifles for consistency and reliability.
  • Performance. A bit.

To touch on performance, this isn’t target shooting on an indoor range. Your targets will be moving. The environment may well be moving too, alive with wind and other environmental conditions. Despite what you might read, most kills are scored in the 30-60m range. The reason for this should be that if you are taking a shot, you want to make sure it hits. Longer ranges bring lower chances. Be decisive with your shot choice. The aim should be to have a competitive rifle that hits a man sized target at 70m every time. Most stock rifles will achieve this with minor work and a good hop bucking, so there really isn’t a need to go throwing large amounts of cash at upgrades straight away. The other important thing I always recommend for any rifle is to make it as quiet as possible. I don’t want any target hearing where the shot came from. For spring powered rifles, see the Silent VSR Guide.

In terms of the rifle externals, personally I don’t use a sling. I do find it’s a bit of a disadvantage trying to move around while attached to the rifle. I also don’t use bipods, except for tech work in the house and taking pictures. Again, its down to easier movement. Having a bipod again means you have to lift yourself up to be level with it and make yourself a bigger target, which is never a good thing. It also results in a lot of unnecessary movement trying to extend it and get it set up, and means the front of the rifle is now (loose) fixed to the ground – you can’t quickly move it left to right to follow targets.

I do have a scope, obviously. It’s a fairly standard 3-9x40mm mildot scope from ebay. If you don’t know what the numbers mean, 3-9 is the variable zoom available on scope (if there’s just one number, like 4×40, that means it’s fixed zoom and can’t be adjusted) – I rarely have it any closer than 3 or 4 while shooting because it’s important to still see what’s going on around the target too. Zoom is very useful for observing further away though. 40mm is the size of the lense at the front. Don’t go any bigger than 40mm, because you’ll find its too big a thing to hide. There’s no correlation to the size of the lense and the size of the scope picture either, but a larger lense will let in more light, for a brighter picture. That can be helpful in low light conditions. All the scopes I’ve ever used have been £30-£50, from either ebay or amazon. They’re more than good enough for the ranges we work at. Always make sure you have camouflage on your rifle, either using camouflage tape, spray paints (although this will leave a smooth finish and a sheen even with matt paint), or some kind of wrap to disguise the shape. Often all that is seen of a sniper is the front end of the gun, a smooth, straight shape will be at odds with the environment around it. Worse still, a black rifle shape. The other giveaway is the dark, solid circle presented by the front of the scope. This is easily fixed by creating a cover out of any material you have to hand, with a hole cut in the middle. Plastic lids, camouflage tape or a piece of cut cloth held in place are all effective at disguising your scope. The hole does not need to be as big as the scope lens in order for you to see clearly out of it. Don’t worry too much about having a nice looking rifle.

The other thing a lot of sites will require is that you carry a sidearm of less than 350fps (in the UK) to compensate for the more powerful sniper rifles. Most sites will forbid sniper rifles being used inside 20m, this is known as Minimum Engagement Distance, or MED, because they can cause serious injury. So what is worth carrying as a sidearm? It can technically be anything, but the key word there is “carrying”. Do you want to carry an assault rifle plus the mags plus the spare batteries etc? Is a spring powered shotgun going to get caught on everything because of its size? Generally, the sidearm of choice here is a pistol. It doesn’t really need to be anything fancy, or of great performance, as long as it can shoot as far as your MED. Non-blowback pistols are the better option, because you’re not wasting gas on your blowback system, which means less refilling and a more efficient weapon, as well as being much cheaper and quieter. Especially the plastic ones. Feel cheap with a plastic pistol? Think about the weight you need to carry and look at it as an advantage. As I said earlier, these are just your tools – it’s not a catalogue photoshoot with Chris Costa. Give yourself every advantage possible.

The mk23 and mk1 are both excellent choices. The mk23 is big, but easily upgraded and has a huge following among the airsoft sniper community, the mk1 small, odd looking and a little fiddly to work on. If you opt for the mk23, check out www.onmymk.com for upgrade guides.

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Radios

If you’re out on your own, a radio is a key piece of equipment for keeping in touch with your teammates and coordinating your attacks, but you’ll need to be on the same frequency, so either get the same make and model or pick yourself up a programmable radio such as a Baofeng. Going one step further, I recently picked up a Baofeng UV-82 model, which can run two frequencies at the same time, meaning I can connect to overall team command and then a seperate channel for my squad. It’s one of the cheaper options but very reliable and you get a lot for your money included in the box. Bear in mind that you will need a better than stock antenna if you’re on heavily wooded or urban sites, which can have a serious effect on the range and reception of your radio. See my setup in a bit more detail here.

Obviously a radio is going to be loud – find a way to mute the beeps that precede any communication, and get an earpiece for it. You can shoulder mount the radio to avoid a microphone setup, but at least mask the incoming transmissions and prevent being given away. A cheap, single earpiece is much better than having both ears covered which will reduce your ability to hear what’s going on around you. Consider that any radio will need a pouch, and that will need to be camouflaged. Once set up, the radio shouldn’t need to be removed from the pouch and the only buttons you’ll need access to are the talk and volume buttons, usually located on the side and top respectively. A simple camouflage cloth cover can be held in place using elastic bands. Ensure the display isn’t lit, or has a setting where it lights up when transmitting.

Filming It

If you’re getting into airsoft sniping with the sole aim of making YouTube videos, you’re not going to get very far. There are now thousands of airsoft sniper channels, drowned out for the most part by only a handful of snipers, some of whom barely qualify as snipers. Sadly, watching bb’s hit people gets dull fast; the innovation of a little cross shaped hit marker being accompanied by a “tthhhhp” sound effect long gone. Airsoft as an experience translates quite poorly to camera and the fun is in playing, not watching. Adding cameras to your kit, especially at the front of the gun, makes camouflage more difficult but also extra hassle that the sniper can do without. Often I see players too involved with checking batteries, stopping/playing the camera and adjusting the angle on the mount to actually be involved in the game. Much worse, are the ones who immediately start playing up for the camera, arguing with other players, making bad decisions thinking “this will look great on video”, and not being anywhere near as focused on their game.

Another gem of advice I see often on various forums, is that you should start out using an assault rifle as a sniper, to see if you like it. The idea is to put it on semi auto, which apparently is the same as a single shot bolt action (bar the range and accuracy), and then you can quickly fire follow up shots if you miss. Aside from the horrible electric noise, this teaches you bad disciplines, such as getting trigger happy because you can if you mess it up, but also to be bolder than you should be in engaging targets because you know subconsciously that you have a full auto switch there if you need it. Sniper isn’t a difficulty level, it’s no different to any other role in airsoft. Learn to do it properly, and it’s a lot of fun. The reason I think a lot of players fail at sniping is largely down to not doing it properly, and then looking for excuses like “it’s slow” or “it’s boring” as an explanation. In reality, being a sniper is a lot more physical, as you navigate difficult terrain to outflank your opponent. There’s more of an adrenaline rush as you try to remain invisible to your opponent even at incredibly close ranges, trying to score that one perfect shot.

Sniper is life, not just for game days.

Best places to shop that don’t sell alcohol

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That’s pretty much it kit wise. Keep it simple, keep it lightweight, and picture dragging yourself face first across the forest floor. That’s the situation you’re applying it to. Now to get into the tactics…

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