Winter is upon us in the UK airsoft scene and it opens the game up much better for us sniper types. Unfortunately the weather is shit and nobody likes it.
I’ve just got back from a game day at my local, Dirty Dog Airsoft. Even in the middle of summer, it floods. So when heavy rain is forecast in December temperatures, it adds an extra challenge. I thought I’d do a blog about fighting the weather as well as AEG users, share a few tips on staying comfortable and performing better in the less pleasant half of the year. Despite being British, we still seem to struggle with bad weather.
With some secret new internal VSR systems to test out, I grabbed a set of old dpm pattern kit and headed out with sniper buddy Bubba for a nice relaxed day on the range, maybe socialise a bit, catch up with people I’ve not seen much this year as I’ve been travelling, and have a look at other people’s kits. Despite being able to put our feet up in a dry shipping container, by a fire, enjoying bacon sandwiches, Bubba insisted we had to go outside and at least shoot a few people. Thanks Bubba.
It was actually a nice game day, only a hundred players in these conditions which is about half the normal numbers. No cheating, no arguing (there rarely is in this part of the UK). But afterwards, we went to pack our wet gear up and Bubba noted that his vintage WW2 cotton German sniper smock was very cold, very wet and very heavy, and it makes crawling and sniping much harder work. And looking at the state of the other players, some of whom had waded through waist-high water and mud, I thought I’d get a stove on in my nice warm kitchen today to explore some solutions.
It’s a problem not because it’s unpleasant, but because if you’re not comfortable then you’re not operating at your best regardless of how tough you think you can be. And if it’s affecting performance, it needs a fix, because we can’t have that. Now, I’ve spent a good chunk of my life outdoors, up mountains in all conditions, even sleeping rough in Finland during the winter (story for another day) but I still prefer being warm and dry where possible. Everyone does. So I’m going to split this blog into two halves, firstly tackling the temperature before looking at avoiding becoming a sponge out on the field.
There are two things I look at for staying warm. Obviously the first one is layering up with insulation. The other one is keeping the wind off you, which makes a big difference too. Using multiple layers allows you to adjust to the temperature in a way big padded jackets can’t. The first layer on is your baselayer. Off the field, my background is sports retail, and baselayers are very common now. But there are two types and it’s important to get the right one – an extra layer does not always mean extra warmth! Most gym type baselayers are designed for muscle compression and pulling sweat off to keep you dry. The smooth outer fabric causes air to flow over and create a breeze which draws the sweat through the fabric; this breeze drops your temperature too so obviously that’s not ideal in cold weather. What you want to be looking for is a fleece lined baselayer which will trap heat in the fibres close to your body, so it also should be a close fit. I usually wear ski baselayers for that but the best baselayer I own for warmth is the British Army thermal underwear. It’s just a thicker fleece on the inside and it’s now my first choice when outdoors, and I do need to pick up a couple more of them. They do bottoms too, also on my list, though at the moment my ski stuff works ok on the bottom half.
There is I think an assumption that newer, more modern kit is lighter, warmer, drier etc but from experience in the day job, I see newer products going further on cost cutting both in materials and manufacture. Stuff is lighter because there’s less material being used for example. A lot is glued rather than stitched because its cheaper, not necessarily better. And so much now is bought online where quite frankly the product information is deliberately misleading and you can’t really examine the product. The key is finding tried and tested stuff which is what I’m using here, rather than having to buy 20 different products in the hope something works.
Next layer is also a British Army surplus item, the Norgie jumper. It’s a towel texture on the inside which is good for trapping heat in, and I like it because it’s a long fit to tuck into trousers and stop air coming up your back. It also has a very big collar, that can zip up much higher to keep your neck warm too. I remember getting on a late night, empty train across Finland once which stopped at some barracks and immediately filled up with soldiers. Sitting there in my Norgie, the soldiers were very interested in it, telling me it was an excellent piece of kit, very warm. Those guys know about operating in Arctic conditions, so if they tell me it’s that good, I’m not going to question it. There are alternatives at this stage, like fleece jackets and merino wool layers, but I stick with my Norgie just for the extra length and because it works for me.
What goes on next then depends on the conditions, and what I’m wearing as an outer. I usually wear smocks in the winter, indeed one of my ghillies is built onto a desert DPM smock, and they’re all the windproof versions so that goes some way to mitigating the effect of cold air blasting through the fibres of your clothing. If not, or just if I want something extra, I have a very lightweight, windproof Nike running jacket that goes underneath to create a barrier. It’s black, but I can run a camo shirt over the top and it’s so thin that it isn’t noticeable.
At this point, I want to talk about padded down jackets, which are everywhere at the moment. I’ve seen some milsim guys running thick padded gilets underneath webbing too. And I’ll start with some advice from a guy called Lauri, who is an airsoft sniper from Finland and I always listen to his advice about cold weather. Don’t wrap up too warm – it’s not the cold that gets you, it’s the sweat on your skin. It’s always very cold in the car park at the start but once you start moving, you soon warm up. Padded down jackets are overkill unless you’re just walking the dog or sitting in a beer garden. The other problem with down as insulation is that as soon as it gets wet, it loses its insulation. And before anyone pipes up about their top-of-the-range one with a waterproof outer shell, that includes sweat from the inside. It’s the same story with sleeping bags. Polyester filling is cheaper but bulkier, but it isn’t affected by getting wet (slightly perhaps but the insulation doesn’t totally fail like down). So the trick here is finding a balance, and it’s why the windproof layer is so valuable. On my shopping list in the new year is the Cierzo Shirt from TRC outdoors, or possibly the Arktis A192, which is a windproof layer so it’ll help trap warm air in and keep cold air out.
A hat is always welcome. I have a selection of green bandanas to wear as a first layer, so I can switch them out if they get sweaty, but they’re also handy to have as hand towels to dry off kit like scopes without actually carrying a big bulky towel. Beanies are by far the most comfortable headwear, as well as keeping your head warm. I have a couple of Condor fleece watch caps which are warm and being polyester, they dry more quickly than wool or cotton knitted options. And they don’t have a roll up edge so there’s no worry about that falling down during a game.
The only other thing I take into a game are silk liner gloves; a thin, warm inner glove to go inside my combat gloves as an extra layer. The hands I find are usually the quickest to get cold or wet, and have the biggest impact on your performance if your fingers are numb from the elements and you’re trying to do things like reloads, changing radio channels, adjusting scopes etc. I remember a story from my father, about being on an aircraft carrier in the south Atlantic one winter and how the special forces on board were issued silk baselayers, gloves and balaclavas to help survive the freezing temperatures. “It’s the absolute fucking business, silk” he would say. The experience of others is incredibly valuable.
Off the field, either during downtime or camping overnight, I do take a padded jacket for when I’m less active, and some warm gloves. These are the British issue Thinsulate gloves, usually found on eBay for around £5.
Nothing beats Thinsulate for warmth in my opinion, although being chunky I can’t do much in them, but during downtime I’m not manipulating weapons or doing anything technical. The hat is a simple knitted hat I got for £1 off an airsoft site once to score free postage. If I’ve switched out to fresh dry kit, this will keep me warm enough around camp on a night. Thinsulate hats and gloves are very easy to find in supermarkets and service stations and are usually very cheap, and the colour isn’t important off the field. I wouldn’t recommend wearing them during the game though, being too warm and too bulky on the move.
Adding layers helps trap your body heat and keep you comfortable, but these aren’t generating heat on their own. If you do need some heat generated, it’ll depend largely on whether your airsoft site either allows fires, or has fires. Outdoor sites don’t tend to have radiators or electric heating. If you’re on a multi day trip, the same applies but you can get a bit of heat off your cooking stove or a paraffin lanter like this Feuerhand 276 which kicks out some heat whilst giving you some nice lighting, and I’ll do a review of mine in the near future. The problem with any sort of heat like this is that it’s only going to last as long as you have fuel, which you’ll need to manage the supply of, and when it stops the heat stops. If you take a metal water bottle, use a small amount of fuel to boil some water and pour it in, and you have a little radiator that you can hold (carefully) to warm you up for a long period of time, or throw into your sleeping bag as a hot water bottle. Literally. I’ve also used it just in my sleeping area as a radiator, to warm the air up around it the same way radiators in a house work. Sometimes a couple of degrees makes all the difference. The solution as much as possible is to not get cold or wet in the first place so that you don’t have to draw on an emergency heat source.
Staying warm is the easy bit. Staying dry, you can approach two ways. Firstly, naturally, we want to try and stay dry in the first place. Secondly, especially if you’re on a multi-day event, you accept that you won’t stay completely dry and look into drying kit out.
As I mentioned above, hiking and being outdoors are my other big loves outside of airsoft and rain is a big part of that. I’ve owned a lot of different waterproof items from all sorts of materials. And I’ve seen the performance of others who I’ve been with. Waterproof kit tends to split into two camps – DWR which is basically spraying a chemical layer on top of the material, and fabric that is actually waterproof. I’ve never had a DWR that has worked properly. I’ve tried loads of different waterproof fabrics too, from Weathertite to Aquadry to Hyperdry to Stormdry, and all manner of plastic crap from various retailers, and the only one that has truly worked for me is the original Goretex. Not Goretex Lite – It’s lighter weight but less waterproof. If you’re sniping, obviously that waterproof fabric is going to be a bit noisy, although I find the Goretex isn’t actually that bad. But, it’s not always something you can camouflage very well.
So, this is what I do…
First layer, as above, my thermal leggings. Second layer is my DPM Goretex overtrousers which keeps me and my leggings dry on the inside. Over the top, go my ghillie trousers or other BDU’s (shown here for clarity). I’m accepting that the outer layer is going to get wet, but I’m keeping myself dry underneath. The other advantage in doing it this way is that if you’re doing a multi-day event, you don’t have to worry too much about getting those wet ghillie trousers back on in the morning because you won’t feel it behind the waterproofs. The DPM versions are perfect, but if you’re finding them difficult to get hold of (although link above), the newer MTP ones are also good. Just be aware they come in two versions. MVP (pretty much Goretex fabric) and a lightweight version. Guess which one will let you down? Never go “light/lite” on waterproofing.
The other thing to remember with waterproofing is that garments obviously have holes in, such as for your head or limbs, and you can get water running in through there. I have a friend who purchased a very expensive Rab mountain waterproof jacket, very high quality, that lasted about 20 mins in rain in the mountains and he was soaked through because the water was running down his neck and inside the jacket. A lot of the military waterproofs do come with storm flaps on zips and pockets, and a higher neck – these features are important. As is keeping your pockets closed. One good tip from him though was to ditch any expensive waterproof gloves in favour of some rubber gardening or rubber type gloves which also give good grip on rocks, but I’ve been unable to find any that aren’t half fabric yet.
For headwear, a waterproof cap underneath whatever you’re wearing works well. I currently run just a fabric DPM bush hat because the brim diverts a lot of the water away from the face, and I have plenty of bandanas and beanies to swap out with. The bigger thing for me beyond a wet head is not having water streaming down my face in the rain. Water on the goggles causes a lot of issues when trying to look down a scope.
If you were to accept that you’re going to get wet one way or another, always pack spares of everything. Even on a short skirmish day, a second pair of gloves to swap at lunchtime is a godsend. For a weekend away, I use dry bags and put a day’s clothes in each one, so I just have to grab the appropriate bag. With all my outerwear (ghillie, goretex layers) staying the same it’s just a t-shirt, underwear and fresh dry socks each time. Even if the outer is wet, I’m still dry underneath and that’s the important bit here. I do recall a story from a friend who plays milsim, Ronan, who turned up with cheap army issue trousers and didn’t understand why some people spent hundreds on better brands. The answer was more apparent in the morning when their expensive kit had dried out overnight and his hadn’t. Now, I do hate polyester on outer layers for camouflage reasons, but plastic polyester clothing does dry faster if you’re having to reuse stuff. Although I’ve criticised DWR systems above, I do get spray on waterproofing just to add a little temporary repellency, but mainly so that the item sheds water a bit quicker to dry it out overnight. Not the ghillie though!
Managing wet kit at camp is a discipline in itself. If you have access to warm, dry rooms or a car it’s easy enough. If it stops raining and you have a campfire, you can dry your stuff next to that (be wary of sparks though). Within the bubble of airsoft, I rarely find myself away for more than a couple of days so my system is usually to get the dry stuff on out of my drybag and shove the wet stuff back in again and seal it, and stow it in my kit bag to sort when I get home. This stops everything else in there getting wet and is the quickest and easiest way to manage it.
Tarps are an essential part of my camp kit, my favourites being (of course) the British DPM bashas and the DD Tarps 3×3 pro. My tent has limited space inside and I find having a dry sheltered admin space is extremely helpful for getting changed, sorting kit out, and generally stopping all your stuff getting any wetter. It’s also very handy as a kit store, even if you just lay the tarp over the top of your gun bags etc. To keep them off the wet ground, put the tarp down first, kit on top, then fold it like a taco and peg it down. I’ve got more thoughts on the camping side of things in the Camping Guide so I’ll not go any further with that stuff here.
Oh, and always take a microfibre towel with you. If you’re wet, you need to get dry before you put dry kit on and nothing feels better than drying off in bad weather. The microfibre ones pack ridiculously small and dry out fast too, ideal for any trip.
Anyone got any other tips or recommendations? Drop them in the comments.