Stepping it Up – Moving up from Skirmish

A few thoughts on building a kit suitable for battlesims, milsims and weekend events, from a skirmish setup. This isn’t a sniper blog, it’ll be for those running as part of a team with an aeg. Which is always fun from time to time.

Following on from the England vs Scotland game (report and intro here), I’ve had quite a few messages from people wanting to give it a go, or similar events, and asking “what kind of gear do I need for it?”. I’ve been fortunate down the years to take part in a wide range of events in the UK, from sniper only weekends, to battlesims, Stirling events, AI500 and weekends away at a variety of different sites and environments. One question I had seen posted was a guy asking for a list of kit to do a big event, and could it be done with a budget of £5000? That’s a huge amount and yet there does seem to be a perception that you need to invest heavily in order to compete on these bigger stages. I think particularly for new players, the idea of milsims can be a bit daunting from a financial perspective as much as the game itself and having the knowledge to do it, and it shouldn’t be, although it does need to be well planned out. But you can sit and research that while your other half is sitting watching baking crap on TV. As intimidating as some events may seem to those who are new to it, you can easily do a good milsim loadout on the cheap and still be as effective as the guys who throw their wallet at it. So I’d like to share my own experiences, borne from many many loadouts, to help players on a budget or starting out pick a kit for doing something a little more than just a weekend skirmish.

Forget the image of a milsim player being one with a £500 plate carrier, tricked out with every top branded, high speed pouch known to man, genuine ballistic helmet, £2000 rifle blinged up with real steel parts, Crye pants and a UBACS shirt hiding a gym fanatics body. Milsim is more about tactics and discipline, and if you go down the more old school surplus route, you can put together a good loadout for surprisingly little. Remember that expensive and effective are two different things. You’ll tend to find most events will have a multicam themed team representing NATO, US or similar forces against some nasty bad guys either in themed kit or old green-dominant camouflages such as US Woodland (no it isn’t actually called M81), DPM, Flecktarn, plain green etc. It’s this team that should appeal more to those on a lower budget, as well as allowing a lot more freedom with your kit selection, and can be less disciplined if you’re just starting out.

The biggest difference in kit terms to the average weekend skirmish game is simply the amount of time you spend in the field. There are no returns to the safezone every 30 minutes to go and reload, so all your ammo needs to be on you, as well as perhaps some small snacks (Haribo are a great choice for a sugar boost) and fluids. If you’re wearing kit for a very long time, it needs to be comfortable, although that is often an easy fix by taking time to adjust straps etc. It isn’t then a case of carrying a huge rucksack and every piece of airsoft kit you own stuffed inside, because then you’re simply going to be overloaded and ineffective. You won’t be looking to charge batteries in the field, strip gearboxes down in the field, change outfits in the field, or film the latest unboxing video in the field. Being an effective player is about stripping everything down to the basics, and doing those well. So where do you start?

Building a Loadout

To be effective, you need to break the loadout right down to its most basic elements and functions.

You have a gun, whether it be a £100 bb launcher or a £10,000 bb launcher. The gun is what will attack, defend, take objectives etc. Without being able to shoot enemy players, you’re nothing. What you do need is to be able to keep feeding ammunition into that gun to keep it working, and make sure it’s reliable enough that when you pull the trigger, a bb comes out. G&G Combat Machines are renowned for their ability to simply run and run, whereas often you’ll see wannabe gun techs with exotic, highly tuned and upgraded rifles that misbehave if it’s cold, or wet, or the bb’s aren’t the right brand, or it simply decides to shit itself for no apparent reason. Don’t try to overcomplicate it.

Behind the gun, is the player (you). The player is going to control where that gun goes and what it’s shooting, and keep it safe from attack by using cover. Taking the time to learn basic soldier skills helps you get the most out of that gun, and costs nothing if you get a chance to practice with a few like-minded friends together, or you can learn a lot from YouTube if you watch the right people – do remember that real steel guys have to factor in recoil and we don’t.

Helping the player with the gun, is the rig or load bearing system. Being airsoft, you really don’t need ballistic protection, unless you’re scared of bb’s, in which case airsoft probably isn’t for you. The primary function of the rig is to hold your ammo in mags until you need them, to keep that gun up and running. It’s also a very good idea to carry a radio in order to communicate with your teammates (other players with guns) so you can organise yourselves in the field to better effect. Here’s an article on my cheap but effective go-to radio, the Baofeng UV-82 dual channel programmable radio which really does change your game. The radio will need to sit in a pouch on the rig. If it’s a longer game, you may want to factor in some food and water. Not a six-course meal, but enough to get you through the length of the event, unless you are able to make visits back to the safe zone for lunch, or access your kit bags periodically, in which case it makes no sense to carry it all in your rig. If you use packet ready meals, a simple utility pouch can hold quite a lot of calories.

If you do have more to carry, such as sleep kit (see The Camping Guide), extra rations or sometimes game-specific props, a good rucksack is important (also covered in Packs). For this article, however, we’re looking at just the basic loadout – your fighting order.

The rig is there to refuel you, the player, and your gun. That’s its job.

So, what we’ve done there is break down all the complexities of the loadout into more simple functions. So what points are worth considering before you go on your shopping spree?

Firstly then, let’s talk guns. There are a lot of different roles within airsoft in terms of the weapons carried. What I’m going to make a case for is the humble assault rifle. Cheap and cheerful from an airsoft perspective, the assault rifle is a jack-of-all-trades. It’ll cover the same ranges as shotguns, LMG’s, pistols, grenade launchers and anything short of a bolt action sniper rifle. But compared to shotguns and pistols, you get a much bigger mag and a full auto switch for when you need it. More manoeuvrable than an LMG, the assault rifle (depending on the model chosen) works well for building clearance if you have the technique to back it up, which is where the DMR fails (aside from the minimum engagement distance preventing most indoor action and the lack of full auto which is a feature worth having when the shit hits the fan). It can go anywhere and do anything, which is great when you have no idea what you might be required to do from one event to the next.

One thing to remember however is that when it comes to choosing an assault rifle platform, there are a huge variety of guns out there but some of the more exotic designs can be either overly complicated, or difficult to repair when the inevitable fault arises if parts are hard to source. As common as they are (and I know some players like to look different and feel special), AK and M4 variants in all their many forms are generally cheaper and easier to fix and have a much bigger supply of parts available.

Here are two of mine that I took to the last weekend event. A rather expensive G&P (top, minus the optic in this pic) and a cheap second hand boneyard M4 that I bought as a project gun that has since replaced all others as my primary CQB weapon. It’s light, simple and easy to use so I don’t have to worry about anything during the game, and will get a suitable paint job in the near future. One thing I do want to touch on is accessories on guns – if something isn’t vitally important to the operation of the gun, leave it off; don’t start adding stuff on just for the sake of looks or whatever. My M4 is as stripped down as it gets. Optics are basic, just the carry handle (useful for carrying too) and front post sight, because I’m only hitting up to 60m and don’t need a zoom function at that distance, but also because in CQB I need much more awareness of my surroundings, at speed, and having a tube to look through gives tunnel vision; part of your view is blocked by the body of the optic and you become very focused on the reticle. I have used a lot of optics down the years, from red dots to ACOGs to reflex sights and obviously sniper scopes, but experience playing has led me to the humble iron sights. Irons don’t obscure your view anywhere and help keep the weight of the weapons system down which is good for longer periods holding the gun and aiming, and obviously there’s no battery to worry about. Yes, the torch is simply taped on and has a push button on the rear like this one which I can operate with my thumb while holding the gun.

In terms of other useful accessories, grips are good if you have a preferred hold, but the only other accessory I’ve ever found to be important on the gun is some kind of torch. There are always dark areas that need investigated, and then obviously if you’re playing at night or having to enter potentially dark buildings it’s vital. A red filter will help with the stealth if you don’t want bright white lights giving you away. That’s it really – I can aim, and I can aim in the dark which is pretty much all I need it to do. Slings are handy too for those times you want to put the gun down without putting the gun down, to free up your hands. I prefer a two point (attached to the front and back of the gun) over a single point sling (round your neck and just clipped onto the rear of the gun) because the single point allows the gun to swing around and smack you in the legs/balls.

Rigs are my favourite part of airsoft. I collect them. A rig will either make or break your loadout, so it needs to be carefully considered. If we go back to the basic function of the rig, it’s just a few pockets to sling stuff in. It’s more important that it’s comfortable and easy to adjust so that it’s tight and secure, to avoid having stuff flapping around. There’s nothing worse than running and having to hold onto bits of your rig while you do it.

I started with a plate carrier but quickly found it hot and bulky, although it looked very cool. Instead I switched to chest rigs, because the open back was much cooler in warm conditions and it puts everything on the front where it’s accessible, rather than on the back of a plate carrier where it isn’t. In recent years as well I’ve struggled with crawling which has had a big bearing on my rigs. I had a game day where I had to crawl with my buddy about 200m around an enemy flank, but in Blackhawk Helivests (plate carriers) and open top style pouches. As you can imagine, it didn’t work at all well, and by the end all the open top pouches were filled with mud and vegetation and it wasn’t comfortable at all crawling around. Since then, I’ve switched over to pouches with lids to keep the mags clean and the contents secure. I’ve also switched to open front rigs, like the split chest rigs and webbing type setups, or SAAV’s (my review here on that), so that I can crawl if I need to without putting my body weight on top of valuable kit.

I also moved away from molle systems – there will be A LOT of people who will disagree here. While it’s useful to be able to switch pouches and build a vest the way you want it, it can lead to excessive customisation and movement. I’ve seen a few players with constantly changing molle setups that in game don’t look familiar with where their stuff is and what is in each pouch. There will be people who like to dress things up as “missions specific” setups (moving a pouch or two), but let’s be honest, if you’re getting used to using the same gun there aren’t really many extra “mission requirements” beyond your ability to feed ammo into that gun as you go around shooting people. Additionally, you might not know what you’ll be tasked with either so it helps to be ready for anything. To think of it another way, if you get a pre-built vest with set pouches, you’ll learn where the pouches are and adapt to them and a lot of these surplus kits are obviously well designed. Modern kit is always popular as people like newer, cleaner, “high-tech” options but the slightly older surplus kit or cadet type vests are going to hold your stuff to keep you resupplied for a lot less. And save the weight of all those loops and clips.

In terms of ammo, which is very important, I run 120rd mid cap mags in my M4’s. I’ll run 4 on the rig itself, which typically will only use two mag pouches so I have spare carrying capacity for other stuff, and one will start in the gun. 5 mags for 600rds of bb’s, for a player who uses semi auto only (spraying “suppressing” fire all day is a waste – be clinical with your shooting), is enough to last quite a while even at more competitive events. In addition, I empty a bottle of bb’s into a clear plastic food bag to reduce that rattle sound (no fancy bb bags) and then use that to fill one small speedloader. Where this ammo bag sits on the rig is irrelevant because I’ll use it only when I need to refill all my mags, which will involve taking five minutes out wherever I am in a game. The speedloader is kept 100% full, to eliminate rattle, and will be somewhere accessible in case I need to quickly load one mag up to get out of a more urgent situation. As a tip, if you decide to run different weights in different guns, but a speedloader for each weight (they’re cheap enough) and wrap some tape around it. Write the weight on the tape to avoid mixing weights up.

Water can go in a hydration pack, or a simple water bottle and you can add electrolyte tablets in so that you stay hydrated on less fluids (don’t scrimp on water though) and as mentioned before, food wise a simple utility or even a spare ammo pouch can hold enough snacks to see you through to lunch. If you are planning a proper lunch break, go and have it from your main kit bag which may be left in a safezone, forward operating base or some kind of friendly camp rather than lugging it around with you. A proper rest break will help keep you refuelled and operating at your best, depending on what you’re about to eat.

Anything else? Yes, but nothing expensive. A compass, map, notebook etc are important admin tools and can be stored in plastic wallets for waterproofing if needed. You need to know what the game objectives are at all times, and where you are in relation to them. Some events will give you this info in advance so it’s worth printing out or making notes before you arrive. A waterproof notebook such as this one is a great idea. If you don’t know what’s going on, you’re not helping your team.

Sidearms aren’t important, if you’re thinking a pistol then its extra weight plus extra mags, which all need stored somewhere. Considering that you’re probably already holding an assault rifle which has more range, accuracy, ammo, and a full auto switch, it makes more sense to simply change the mag if you’re out of ammo than it does to swap the weapon for a less capable one, and then means you’re lugging an assault rifle around with you instead. Keep that rifle up and just keep feeding it with ammo. Pyro is fun, but not necessary if you can handle your rifle properly so we’ll leave that as an optional extra and it’s a personal choice. Smokes tend to actually do little other than give your position away, and remember you’re having to take your hands off the gun to grab one, strike it and throw it.

Uniforms

Clothing is important and certainly more than just picking the right team colours – again you can’t go far wrong if you choose basic green team colours or patterns, which are very widely accepted and will save you having to buy different ones for different events. Layering up for different weather conditions is vital – if it’s wet, pack waterproofs. Bear in mind that if it’s a northern European winter and raining hard, you’ll be in that kit for at least the day before you can change, and you can’t carry an infinite number of clothing items. I layer up for the weather, using thermal baselayers but also waterproofs. Buying waterproofs in multiple camo patterns can get very expensive, and a lot of waterproofing systems are pretty rubbish. I got round that by buying surplus Goretex (I don’t trust anything else, and as a key feature it’s breathable), and then wear the Goretex underneath my chosen BDU’s, so I stay dry underneath. The British MVP is a similar waterproof system if you can’t find the older Goretex stuff and you can pick surplus ones like this up pretty cheaply.

When it comes to picking BDU’s, it is tempting to go to AliExpress or Wish for some budget, dodgy fitting Chinese clones for very cheap. You might also shop for replica brands such as Viper, Miltec, Helikon and find shirts and trousers around £30 per item, and I have a wardrobe full. But much more comfortable (I’ve found) and a much better fit are the actual army surplus versions, especially DPM and US Woodland, both of which are available in Dutch army flavours too. And they’ll cost a lot less – I’ve picked up new surplus shirts, still in the packets, for £10-£15 each and trousers for less just by shopping around. Honestly, they’re miles better than any of my replica bits and I’ll be shopping surplus going forward.

Do pack extra underwear and especially socks – keep your feet warm and dry!. You might also consider a very light windproof jacket or Cierzo shirt to tuck away into a pouch for extra weather resistance. Beanie hats are also very useful for warmth at night or just keeping your head protected during the day. I love my fleece watch hat, and also recommend a good Boonie or Bush hat for keeping rain and sun off – the bush hat has a less obstructive brim but I do like the boonie for veg loops if you need some natural camo adding. On top of that, your usual airsoft boots, gloves and eye pro but that should already be in your kit bag.

Well, that’s what I’ve learned from doing many, many loadouts but would be interested to hear any other ideas in the comments below. Discussion is always welcome, I’m definitely no CQB expert so always looking to learn.

One thought on “Stepping it Up – Moving up from Skirmish

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