Airsoft versus Paintball. Speedball versus Milsim. 6mm warfare versus vegetable oil valor.
The Airsoft versus Paintball rivalry goes way back to their inception; there has been endless debate between the fans of each, with each side considering theirs the superior sport.
You would think that the two could coexist peacefully, as in reality, they serve different markets and different kinds of players – with airsoft geared more towards objective-based, realistic MilSim and Paintball usually more towards fast-paced, close-quarters speedball tournaments. But what fun would it be without a little rivalry, right?
Players love to debate everything from which is cheaper, which is more fun, and of course the biggest issue of all – which one hurts more.
The pain of being hit may seem like a deterrent, but many players (strangely enough) see it as a badge of honor; if your sport hurts more, you must be the tougher players, right?
Which hurts more could be considered personal opinion, as many people consider it a different kind of pain – and one can hurt a lot more depending on where you get hit – being hit in the face, neck or groin is going to be a lot more painful than being hit in the back.
Science, and a quick bit of math, can help us out. While a direct hit in both sports can inflict quite a bit of pain, an airsoft pellet delivers significantly less power and impact than a paintball. Airsoft guns shoot small, 6mm plastic pellets that weigh anywhere from .20g to .28g at about 400 FPS.
A direct hit at that speed will put out somewhere between 1.48 and 2.07 joules of energy on impact – though it will be significantly less at further distances, as the BB’s will have lost so much energy.
While a direct hit will hurt on bare skin or through thin clothing, you may not even feel it at larger distances or if it bounces off your gear.
Paintballs on the other hand are much larger than airsoft pellets, measuring about .68” in diameter and weighing about 3.5grams – that’s about 17 times the weight of a .20g airsoft pellet. Because of this larger size and heftier weight, paintball guns usually fire at about 290-300 FPS.
This is significantly slower than the velocity of an airsoft pellet, but because of the much larger size, has much more inertia and delivers much more force on impact. A 3.5g paintball fired at 290 FPS would deliver over 13 joules of energy on impact – almost 13 times that of an airsoft pellet!
It thus appears that getting hit by a paintball should hurt more than getting hit by an airsoft gun. Significantly more. Close to 13 times more.
Being hit at close range or on bare skin in either welt will probably leave at least a welt, but paintball is much more likely to give you large, painful welts – and is much more likely to break skin. A good analogy might be that paintball is more of a strong impact, breaking and splattering all over your and possibly leaving bruises – while airsoft is more a sting and leaves small welts.
And if you want to get technical, you can remember that a paintball has a larger diameter, which will, in turn, actually spread the impact across the wider surface area; this is why paintball often results in bruises as opposed to welts.
This is why proper face protection and safety gear is so important in both sports. Being hit in the face is likely to break the skin and cause some bleeding, and – as everyone knows – being hit in the eye is asking for permanent damage. This may just be the one place where paintball may actually be safer and hurt less than airsoft.
While full-face masks are mandatory in paintball, most airsoft fields do not require them – and many airsoft players prefer to wear only eye-goggles or safety glasses. This leaves their face and mouth exposed to incoming plastic. You are thus much more likely to see chipped and missing teeth among the ranks of airsoft players than you might in paintball. It is not uncommon for some players to have BB’s lodge in their skin when shot at extremely close range, either.
While it is the consensus that paintball hurts more – in the end, does it really matter? Unless you are being hit head-on in a sensitive area, the amount of pain you feel when caught up in the game is really miniscule in either sport, and shouldn’t be a factor in deciding; you should be having far too much fun to notice, especially if you’re wearing protective gear.
Which is a better sport for you will have much more to do with what you like than how much it hurts – are you more into the tactical MilSim of airsoft, or do you just crave the fast-paced, adrenaline-fueled action that paintball delivers?
The best way to find out is to get out there on the field yourself!