The Basic Rules of Paintball

Paintball may look fun and colorful, but it’s a serious sport with serious rules. To stay in the game—and get out of it in one piece—it’s important to know the basics. Here’s a quick guide to help you out.

Paintball is a sport that involves eliminating opponents by hitting or “marking” opponents with pigment-filled paintballs fired from a specialized gun. The object of the game is to eliminate all the members of the opposing team, except in a special style where the two teams race to retrieve a flag. In Capture the Flag mode, team members range from one to over a thousand, limited only by the size of the play area. Paintball can be played indoors or outdoors, and is one of the few sports where men and women can play together.

Basic equipment

To play, you need a paintball gun (also called a marker), paintballs, and protective clothing such as suits, mask and goggles. Paintball tubes are not required, but most players carry them so that they can easily reload on the field.

Paintball markers may be manual, automatic or semi-automatic. Semi-automatic models are the most popular among players, as fully automatic guns are forbidden from most official games because of safety concerns. Balls are fed into the gun by a paintball hopper, which may be bought separately or come packaged with the gun.

Paintballs are usually made with water-soluble pigments, most commonly polyethylene glycol. They are built to break upon impact and spray the pigment on a player’s clothes. It’s important that the balls are non-toxic, so always look for the non-toxic sign on the label.


Players are eliminated when they are hit by a paintball directly from an opponent’s marker. This means you can’t get eliminated by a paintball that hits you after hitting another object, such as a tree. There are also varying rules on what constitutes a paintball mark—some tournaments count only large splashes, while others will eliminate you for even a small drop. According to the American Paintball League, the splat must be quarter-sized to count as a makring.

Gun checking

Before and after the game, you may need to record your gun’s firing rate and the speed of your paintballs in transit. This requires the use of a marker chronograph, which is usually provided by the field management or tournament. The cap is usually at 300 feet per second, although indoor and nighttime tournaments can set the limit to 280 for safety reasons. A marker that breaks the limit is known as a “hot gun” and may incur penalties.

Firing and surrendering

You are only allowed to fire at opponents, although accidental hits on structures in and out of the playing field are permitted. Changing or moving the structures to your advantage is not permitted, either.

When you find yourself a certain distance from an opponent, tournament rules allow you to ask the other player to surrender. Surrender distances vary by tournament, usually ranging from 5 to 20 feet. The opponent may fire at you instead of surrendering, in which case you are permitted to fire back.

Safety gear

Paintball is considered one of the safest sports by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). But that’s not to say it’s not without its risks. Paintballs can pack a lot of force when launched, and quite a number of injuries have resulted from unprotected impact with paintballs. That’s why most games require you to wear protective gear during games, or even when passing through an active game field.

Specialized paintball suits are designed to absorb the impact from paintballs to prevent bruising. Camouflage clothes are common in woodsball, while colorful designs (such as flames) are preferred for speedball where the playing field is smaller. Most tournaments prohibit thick padding, however, because they reduce the chances of the paintball breaking when hit.

High-impact paintball goggles are a must in any game, as the eyes are a common site for paintball injuries. For even more protection, go for a goggle mask, which covers your entire face. Paintball gloves are also useful, both for protecting your hands and giving you a better grip on your marker.

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