The topic of the day is approved eye-wear for use in airsoft. What are the requirements you should look for to protect your eyes?
- Z87.1 or Z87+ ANSI impact rating (varies by field)
- Fully Sealed
- Retention Strap
The first thing is the rating. Z87.1 is a rating established by ANSI - the American National Standards Institute. The goal of ANSI is to create uniform testing standards and guidelines for products and equipment used by businesses. Z87+ denotes a higher standard which is meant for high speed impact such as from debris. These are to the same standard you might use for industrial work or for use around real firearms. A fast moving piece of debris can be just as dangerous to your naked eye as a BB so these goggles will take a serious impact and keep on working. Never trust your eyes to something that has not been tested or from a reputable maker. If you get some eyewear for really cheap, be wary that it might not have any impact ratings to back the product.
Fully sealed refers to how much of the goggles cover your eyes. Shooting glasses are something you might see that are properly impact rated, however do not form a sufficient seal around your eyes. It is one thing to be wearing shooting glasses at a shooting range to protect against something from coming back to you. It is another thing when you are playing in a sport where you are actively being shot at. Anywhere that a BB can go, it will find a way, so any gaps between your eye protection and your face are where they will end up.
The last requirement is a retention strap. Again, since you are playing in a sport with a lot of movement and with people shooting at you, you have to consider that the goggles might get brushed up and knocked off your head. A retention strap will mitigate that significantly and you will see it as a requirement for many fields.
Variations of Requirements
The only major variations you might see from field to field is the level of face protection required and the Z87 rating required. Many indoor fields or fields that play in close quarters will have a mandatory rule about full face and possibly ear protection. Usually a paintball mask meets and exceeds all the requirements. For exclusively outdoor fields that may not be a requirement.
At our field, lower face protection is required for players under the age of 18. Ear protection is not required. For players over 18, it is not required, though I still highly recommend it. We even have a CQB portion of our field, which is where I cannot recommend it enough to have full face coverage. Most of our long range players opt out of this map anyway just to catch a break and socialize so it is not a big issue, but you might not have that luxury. Either way, dental work is very expensive so this is 100% on you to observe if the field does not require it. For eye protection, we go with Z87+ just to be as safe as possible.
One thing we see coming in from new players a lot are cool masks or helmets with eye-protection built in. These are usually utilizing lenses that are untested and unrated or using a simple metal mesh material. While these can stop some standard velocities up to a point, they should be avoided because a BB can shatter on impact and you will have that debris going into your eyes. On high powered guns the mesh could be defeated potentially. We turn these masks away for safety reasons. The same goes for gas masks. These often do not having a high enough rated lens, though people who like to cosplay and combine that hobby with airsoft will bring these kinds of masks. The only thing tough enough that you could run would have Lexan/plexiglass for lenses which is something you might have to upgrade to if you make your own custom equipment. Due to liability reasons, this may not fly for your local field.
Time to sound like an old timer for a moment: Back in the early days of airsoft, our guns didn't shoot nearly as powerful out of the box. We all had to spend money on upgrades to make them shoot to the competitive standard that we have today. With that being said, some of us took huge risks and endangered ourselves by using mesh goggles. Although they worked fine against a lower powered old school AEG, it was rare to encounter something heavily upgraded and it could be dangerous if you took a hit in the goggles with a powerful gun. We often played in unsanctioned areas unsupervised. That was what early airsoft was like. It was not very inviting for new players and very expensive and hazardous. Now that the sport has matured into something more legitimate, it is important people understand the importance of safety and why high standards should be encouraged throughout the United States.
With that said, stay safe out there and do support your local fields that take this issue seriously.