A comprehensive guide to reducing paintball costs
As some of you may have already noticed, I have been posting this guide in parts over the past week or so, but have decided to compile it together and repost it in one thread, to make it more useful.
I have been playing paintball for nearly 11 years now. For the past 4 years, I did so while attending college full time. This meant finding as many ways as possible to save money in order to continue playing. I hope that, by posting this, you can find things out the easy way, rather than the hard way like I had to.
Edit 1/28/11: As I may not have made this particularly clear, I'd like to state that this guide is not for players who are simply trying to save a few dollars here and there. This forum already contains a wealth of information if that is your aim. This guide is written for those players who must constantly save money to be able to play at all, and for whom the most basic gear may be all that is within financial reach. So, students, high-schoolers paying for their own gear, and guys and gals with real-life commitments and responsibilities, this guide is for you.
It may also be useful for those who find themselves so focused on equipment and being competitive that they've stopped enjoying the game. Less equipment allows one to focus on the game, not the gear. To quote Thoreau, "Simplify, simplify."
Part 1: The Mindset
While it may seem odd to discuss the mindset necessary to play paintball on a tight budget, it really is vital to understand before diving further into the topic. Many players quit because they "can't afford to play", when really, they lack the dedication, self-control and adaptability necessary to play on a budget. So, here's a short list of things that will help you in your quest to reduce your paintball costs.
Self-control- New products for paintball are constantly being released, and it requires a great deal of self-control to tell yourself that you really don't need the shiny new gadgets. Not only must you control your own spending, but you must control your actions on the field to a higher degree--particularly when it comes to firing the marker. Controlling your rate of fire and avoiding "buck fever" will be of the utmost importance.
Dedication- You mustn't give up on your commitment to your budget, despite any problems you may encounter, such as being less effective on the field or even ridicule from other players. This dedication also requires a degree of self-confidence--ridicule always raises doubts, and self confidence is the only way to put those doubts to rest. You must be certain that you are doing what is best for you.
Critical Thinking- This is, essentially, your ability to analyze what your needs as a player are, and to find ways to meet your needs that are within your budget. This means examining each piece of equipment carefully, and deciding whether it is truly necessary and worth the cost.
Creativity- Often, problems (such as lacking a certain piece of equipment) can be solved with a little creativity. It may require making something yourself or finding something similar, but creativity will guide you to the solution.
Adaptability- For most players, a budget will require a radical change in playing style, and being adaptable will allow you to "roll with the punches", and find a way to make the most of what you have, and have fun doing so.
These attributes will make the obstacles encountered when playing on a budget seem much less daunting, and will allow you to enjoy yourself just as much as the player spending half a paycheck every time they play.
Part 2: The Budget
In general usage, when we discuss paintball on a budget, we really mean "cheap". But an honest-to-goodness budget will help you control your spending and direct your resources toward the things you really need. The budget need not be anything particularly complex--just enough to help you keep track of where your money is going. You'll have to create an overall budget first, then create a paintball-specific budget from that.
Start with the amount of money you generally bring in per month. From that, subtract recurring, fixed expenditures; things like rent, utilities, and other bills. Then, from that, subtract money for things you have to buy, but which costs vary for, like fuel and food. An estimate here is fine, or you can look at bank statements and average things out from past months. This should give you an idea of what your discretionary income is; this is the money you have to spend on whatever you choose.
An example overall monthly budget:
Fixed Expenditures: $600
Other Expenditures: $400
Now, if paintball is your only hobby, you can budget all of this toward paintball; however, I would leave some for other things (trips, dates, unexpected expenses, etc.). Depending on your income, budget anywhere from 25 to 75 percent of your discretionary income for playing paintball. Assuming that you play every weekend, the amount you budget shouldn't exceed $400, but should be more than $120. More than $400 and you are probably making enough to not be concerned with a budget (lucky you); less than $120 and you may not have enough to pay for paint, air, and field fees. The amount here is really up to you--it's just important that you set a maximum amount for paintball each month.
So, you should now have an amount of money set aside for playing each month. Now, we must create a budget, to control how we spend that money. I will assume that you already have a full set of equipment of your own if you play regularly enough to set a budget, so we won't include equipment costs. If you already have a favorite field and know their pricing scheme, then subtract your entry fees and air/CO2 costs for every day you plan to play. If not, a safe estimate is $30 for every day of play for entry and air. This should be enough to make sure you're not caught short. Also subtract $5 to $10 for drinks and food for every day of play, and $20 for the month for equipment maintenance (spare parts and the like), and a reasonable amount for transportation costs, which will depend on your location.
The number that you're left with is your paint budget for the month. Divide that by the number of times you plan to play, and you'll get the amount you can spend on paint each day. It is probably surprisingly low, but you must stick to this amount. However, you'll have to be able to purchase at least 500 paintballs for a day of play, so if you know you won't be able to purchase even that amount, you'll have to either cut costs somewhere else in your budget, like food expenses, or increase the portion of your discretionary income that you devote solely to paintball. Again, it is important that you utilize some self control and make sure you stay under this limit for paintball spending. It is very easy to nickel-and-dime yourself into not being able to pay rent.
At this point, your budget should be complete. Again, while this process may seem unnecessary, it will really help you keep your expenses in check and make paying for paintball much less stressful.
Part 3: Purchasing Gear
Skill is much more important than equipment. Stock class and pump players prove this on a regular basis, and this must be one of the maxims that you live by as a player. A dollar spent on equipment would be better spent improving skill. However, it is impossible to play without equipment, and so I will address the most effective and inexpensive ways I've found to meet my equipment needs.
First, a few tips:
-Be a minimalist. You really don't need a ton of equipment--when I go to play, I only take what fits in a backpack. Focus on playing more, and less about buying new junk. It's kind of liberating, actually.
-Be creative. You can make all sorts of equipment out of household things. There are plenty of do-it-yourself guides out there if you need them.
-Check out yard sales, thrift stores, the B/S/T and eBay. You can find incredible deals on all sorts of stuff.
-Protect your investments. It makes no sense to spend $40 or $50 on a mask, only to throw it in a dirty gear bag with shoes and hoppers and markers. You can make a mask bag out of an old t-shirt, and a marker case out of a used laptop bag or briefcase. Spending 5 dollars to protect something is better than spending 50 to replace it.
The following is an equipment guide for newer players who may not own their own gear, or for those looking to replace equipment. For advanced players who already own their own gear, I have included a section about pump play, immediately after this equipment guide.
There has been a great deal written about all of the various masks on the market. I will simply provide some guidelines to follow when selecting a mask. The first consideration to make is the lens--you want to be sure that you'll be able to get replacement lenses for a long time. The JT Elite and Spectra, and the VForce Armor and Profiler lenses have been around for a decade or more, so they are safe bets. Having selected a lens, I would suggest looking up every mask model that has used that lens, including masks no longer in production. Masks like the JT Proteus and V Force Morph were fine systems, but no longer made and not well known. You might be able to score a deal this way, but of course, you should replace the lens on any used mask you purchase, for safety reasons.
Again, plenty has been written about every marker on the market. Here are my recommendations:
-Don't buy an electro, even a sear-tripper. You'll blow your paint budget quickly and needlessly. Mechanical, blowback semi-autos are cheap, simple, reliable, and surprisingly effective.
-Don't buy a pump. Yes, they can save you paint. However, the initial cost is pretty high, and playing pump requires a lot more skill. As such, this is something more appropriate for advanced players.
-Only buy a marker you know you will be able to get parts for a few years down the road.
-Buy a discontinued model. (This works well with Spyders. With a few exceptions, all the internals are compatible between markers, meaning you can purchase something like an Aggressor or TL-R and still find parts.)
-Buy used. Mechanical markers are awfully hard to kill, so even a used marker should last a long time. My primary markers were made in the mid 90's, and show no signs of stopping.
-If it requires an elbow to put a hopper on, you'll need to purchase a bunch. These get lost easily and the newer ones tend to crack. Add that into the price before you buy anything.
-Don't buy upgrades. Most are a waste of money. Not even a barrel. (The PunkWorks team has proven quite conclusively that the player and the paint have the biggest effects on accuracy, so a new barrel won't really help.)
My personal favorites:
-Spyder, any model, or a 100 % compatible clone. My personal favorites are the Victor, TL, and the Special Edition. These can be had for ridiculously low prices, and are solid markers. Parts are plentiful, and Kingman isn't going anywhere for a long, long time. (A note: the "straight elbow" needed to attach hoppers to some Spyders can be made out of a PVC fitting. 1/2" to 3/4" if I recall correctly. Requires a bit of Dremel work, but is nearly indestructible.)
-Tippmann 98 Custom. Purchased used, these are a great deal. Personally, my luck with Tippmanns has been poor, but hundreds of field owners can't be wrong. If this is your choice, purchase extra front sight springs and ball detents (easy to lose), and don't spend more than $50-$60 if you buy used.
There are certainly other possibilities; again, these are personal favorites and nothing more.
Again, there's a wealth of information out there about hoppers. Most would recommend a basic force-feed model, but I'm going to recommend a simple gravity feed, or at most a used Revvy or Ricochet. A generic gravity feed hopper can be had for $5 or less, and if you make sure to fill it with no more than a pod (Personally, I pad the inside and fill them half full), you won't have many jamming issues.
If you are fortunate enough to play at a facility with all-day air, by all means, purchase a compressed air system. A 48/3000 system should be adequate, and they can be bought for not much over $30 brand new. You won't be shooting fast or often enough to really worry about things like recharge rate or tank capacity. Only use CO2 if HPA is not an option (like in my case, where I'd have to drive to another state to get a fill), or if it is cheaper to have CO2 filled than HPA--a rarity these days. If so, a 20 oz tank is more than enough and should last all day.
This may seem counterintuitive, but buy the best paint you can afford. This doesn't necessarily mean the most expensive, but it should be of high quality. Ask local players for their recommendations, if possible. Since paint is the biggest deciding factor in accuracy, good paint is crucial. If you can only afford 500 rounds, then you can only afford 500 rounds. Its better than buying 1000 cheap paintballs and shooting twice as much to hit anything.
Purchase or make a funnel to use when filling your hopper, and fill your hopper over some kind of container, to catch any paint that you may drop. Waste not, want not...
Clothing and Other Equipment
Woodsball or speedball, most clothing made for paintball is about fashion and little else. Yes, pants and jerseys have some padding, but a cheap pair of knee and elbow pads work just as well. In general, paintball specific clothing is a bit of a rip-off, so avoid buying it.
For woodsballers, a set of camouflage BDU's or ACU's from a local surplus or thrift store will do just fine. Studying stalking and ambush techniques is more useful than a full set of Multicam gear.
If you can't find camouflage, go to a thrift store and find a pair of brown, olive green, or tan cargo pants, a bit bigger than you'd normally buy. Then, find a tan, brown, or olive green hooded sweatshirt. Avoid items with white printing or brightly colored logos, unless you can remove them. Sticking to olive green or khaki colors works surprisingly well in the woods.
For speedballers, purchase a pair of black cargo pants (again, bigger than you'd normally buy). These don't look too different from normal paintball pants, so you won't look terribly out of place. On top, just wear a long sleeved t-shirt or a hoodie. Again, the thrift store is your friend. If you really must have a jersey, find one used, or buy an older one on closeout. Another option is to purchase a motocross jersey--they're very similar to paintball jerseys, because the original paintball jerseys were re-branded motocross jerseys.
When it comes to shoes, a number of people recommend cleats. I choose the easier route and buy trail-running shoes or lightweight hiking boots. If you live in an outdoorsy community, you can find these used at thrift stores or yard sales for dirt cheap. Just make sure they fit well and allow you to kneel, crouch, and run easily.
Other items: For headgear, a ballcap or beanie is more than enough. The cheapest solution for gloves is a pair of brown jersey gloves with the fingertips cut off. Motocross or BMX gloves are also very effective. Don't spend more than $10, though.
You may have noticed I haven't mentioned a harness/pack--there's a reason for that. You don't need it. If you're trying to save money, you'll have to save paint, and playing hopperball is an easy way to do that.
If your marker didn't come with a barrel sock/condom, simply purchase the cheapest one you can find. Anything that's commercially available is certainly good enough.
I think this covers all the essential equipment.
If you're a bit more advanced, playing pump can be a great way to save money. There's a great deal of information out there about pumps, so I'll keep it basic.
There are two main operating systems for pump markers; Nelson-based and Sheridan-based. Nelson-based pumps have an inline design, while Sheridan-based are stacked-tube. The CCI Phantom is an example of a Nelson-based pump, and the WGP Sniper is an example of a Sheridan-based pump.
There are also two main styles of pump play; open-class and stock-class. Open class means using a standard hopper and air system, while stock class means the marker is powered by 12-gram CO2 "powerlets" and fed by a horizontal feeder that holds 10 paintballs. The marker must be rocked forward or back while pumping to load a ball. Stock class obviously provides the greatest potential for paint savings, but is an extremely challenging way to play.
My suggestion when purchasing a pump marker is to purchase an open class marker. These can easily be made to function as a stock class marker if you want to try that style. Simply purchase a 12-gram changer, and make a feed tube out of PVC or copper pipe.
My suggestion for a good starter pump marker would be a Trracer, either a used older version or the recently re-relased Empire one. The design is simple and rugged, and they work well.
Part 4: Reducing Paint Consumption
Playing paintball on a budget requires one big sacrifice--you have to reduce your paint consumption. So here are some tips on reducing it, as well as a few tactics to increase your effectiveness on the field.
-Buy better paint, but less of it. This is kind of obvious and I have stated it in previous posts, but you're better off buying 500 paintballs that fly well and break on target than 1000 that corkscrew and bounce.
-Be smart when you fill. This is a restatement, but it is very important. When filling your hopper, use a funnel or a paintball caddy. Also, ALWAYS fill over some sort of container. That way, any paint that falls out is caught. A small and simple trick, but you'd be surprised how much you find dropped at the end of the day.
-Play hopperball. Again, sort of obvious. For most situations, having 150-200 paintballs per game is more than enough, if you are careful.
-Aim carefully and know where to aim to hit a target at any distance. Again, obvious, but seems to be neglected by many people. An easy, natural way to learn to aim is to point your index finger parallel to the top of the grip frame (what Rob "Tyger" Rubin of Web Dog Radio calls "zen" aiming).
-Break out the shake-n-shoot. Without the luxury of a force-feed hopper, you're not going to be able to shoot "ropes". Besides, shooting fast on a budget is a bad idea.
-Use a smaller hopper. You can make a pretty decent 50-60 round loader using an old quart oil container and the neck and lid to a Gatorade bottle, or purchase a suitable one for a fairly low price. Many companies make small loaders, including Empire, GXG, and Allen Paintball (a personal favorite). A small investment that can be helpful and reduces your target profile.
-Don't longball. Unless you're an amazing shot, or just lucky, you're not going to get an elimination.
-Partner up. There should be plenty of players who shoot like paint is going out of style. Team up with them. Let them do the heavy lifting while you advance or sneak around to make eliminations or a flag grab.
-Don't sit in one place. You don't have the paint or rate of fire to slug it out with someone, so move constantly.
Hopefully all of these tips will help you to keep playing despite any budget limitations you may face. I intend to continue editing and revising this document as I come up with more ideas and as I receive suggestions. Thanks for reading!
Edited by Kjimenez, 07 February 2011 - 01:18 AM.