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When the first paintballers, Hayes Noel and Charles Gaines, loaded their markers to settle an argument about survival in the wild, they did it in the great outdoors of New Hampshire. Since then, the game has always been seen by outsiders and many insiders as an outdoor sport. Extreme, physically demanding and played over varying terrains, paintball could only really work in a natural environment, couldn’t it?
It turns out paintball works pretty well indoors, too. The idea may alarm some purists, and it’s true that the differences are as big as the similarities, but let’s just see if there’s a definitive answer to the question of which is best.
The most obvious advantage is the abundance of space. A paintball field can cover a huge area with endless natural helps and hindrances like ditches, hedges, trees and rocks, challenges like steep slopes and treacherous ground, plus man-made barriers and shelters like walls and abandoned buildings (although you need to be sure these are safe for play).
Firing range is more of an issue outdoors simply because the distance between you and your opponents can be substantial, although a surprise attack could get up close and personal. Also, if you’re unlucky enough to get hit, a long-range shot is going to be less painful on impact. A long-range marker like the Tippman A-5 is ideal for these conditions.
Grass and soil also make for much more yielding surfaces if you should stumble and fall, while the fresh air makes the environment feel much more energizing. A paintball game played outdoors is also likely to last much longer because of the lack of containment and the size of the field.
An indoor paintball pitch is weather-proof, and play doesn’t have to shut down when darkness falls. These are two pretty big advantages.
Unless you can guarantee decent weather or you don’t mind playing in the wind, rain, ice and snow, being indoors means all your focus is on strategy and performance. You won’t be thrown off course by the vagaries of the climate. Games won’t be cancelled because of weather extremes, either.
Because it’s a controlled environment, your paintball game can be scheduled for any time of day or night. You don’t have to worry about loss of visibility or the dangers of trying to play in the dark.
An indoor pitch is limited in size, which means that there is likely to be a much higher concentration of features like obstacles and hiding places. The smaller area means there’s a lot less running around and a lot more engagement with your opponents - who are easier to spot and hit because they’re so much closer.
If you’re concerned about playing in a hot, stuffy atmosphere, rest assured that most indoor paintball sites are air-conditioned. This means that not only are you safe from the elements, but you’ll generally have a comfortable environment.
Outdoors is where paintball started, but sometimes the weather, the failing light and the sheer distances you need to cover can make the game a tough, frustrating experience. Getting soaked in a rainstorm is no fun, even if you’re wearing a full-coverage mask like the JT Spectra Flex 8. You’ll have other natural challenges to deal with, too, like mud, insects and unstable ground. Moreover, when winter comes, paintball starts to look very much like a seasonal sport.
The indoor space is much less versatile, so you’re limited in the varieties of games you can play. You’ll also learn very quickly that an indoor pitch gets messed up a lot more comprehensively than an outdoor one. It’s smaller, so all that paint is going to make the conditions on artificial surfaces slippery very quickly. The games are likely to be shorter because it’s much harder to escape and hide. Plus, you’ll use more paintballs because the proximity of your opponents will encourage you to fire more frequently.
There’s a lot to be said for the indoor pitch being unaffected by the weather, but if you think about it, while there may be times when a quick, warm and dry game is all you need, at other times, the wind and the snow are a huge part of the experience.
Are we any closer to a conclusion? No. Inside or out, paintball is flexible and adaptable, with no two games unfolding in the same way. Let’s just be glad we’ve got such great options.
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