One of the manifold pleasures of airsoft is the permission it gives you to dress up.
Some people are almost obsessive in their quest to replicate the dress and equipment of a particular unit. I’m not. For a start, I’m not quite dedicated enough. Though I also have a thing about wearing insignia you’re not entitled to.
Fine if you want to (tolerance is one of the many virtues of our community). But I get annoyed enough seeing tourists wearing sweatshirts emblazoned with the name of my university. And all I had to do to get in there was to write a few essays against the clock.
Lord only knows what it feels like to see someone impersonating a member of your unit when you had to carry a telegraph pole up and down Ben Nevis for a week just for a chance to sit the entrance exam.
So who do I think I become when I put on my battledress? If anyone, it’s probably a British ‘volunteer’ in the former Yugoslavia of the 90s or a ‘security consultant’ working in Africa in the present day. Though it’s unlikely that someone who looks like he did his service in the Catering Corps would qualify for either of these roles.
Let’s take a look at my usual clobber, working from top to bottom, as the actress said to the bishop.
I like berets. Not maroon or Royal Marines green (see above). Just anonymous black, dark blue or khaki.
The beret is perhaps the most impractical military headgear ever invented. The first unit to wear them was the Royal Tank Regiment, who adopted black berets because they wouldn’t show the oil stains that they inevitably picked up from their mechanical steeds. That is the only credible rationale for the beret that I have ever come across.
A boonie is better at keeping the rain and sun off and can be camouflaged with fresh foliage. A nice woolly watch cap (Polartec is great) keeps you warmer, and has the virtue of covering your ears. Which is not tactically sound (you can’t hear the buggers creeping up on you) but makes cold days a bit more bearable.
However, a beret is jauntier, and in my opinion, more ‘warry’. So that’s what I wear. I hope that’s okay with you. If it isn’t, tough.
Everyone will tell you this is important. And it is. My eyes are perhaps my second favourite pair of organs, and I intend to keep them in working order, thank you very much.
My preference is for Bolle tactical spectacles. They’re expensive, but they’re what real soldiers wear to protect against high velocity fragments. And I can fit my prescription lenses in them easily using the matching prescription insert.
Some people recommend a full-face mask, and I know I should wear one to protect my beautiful teeth. Instead, I tend to pull my scrim scarf or Shemagh up over my cake hole when the action gets intense. I have tried mouth guards, but they only cover one line of teeth and I have an irrational fear of inhaling them as I pant from one piece of cover to the next.
So I try to remember to keep my gob shut and use my lips as nature’s mouthguards. I sometimes wish others would do the same.
I’ll cover my webbing equipment in a future post, so let’s focus on clothing for now.
My preference is for DPM, or ‘Disruptive Pattern Material’ as it was known by the Ministry of Defence. I was heavily influenced growing up by the highly respected 1978 art house movie ‘The Wild Geese’ in which an elite squad of alcoholic British thespians go to Africa to serve some obscure liberal cause and generally kick ass. They all wear DPM. And berets.
DPM has since been replaced in British service by the stylish new MTP, but it remains a very practical choice for woodland terrain. I was lucky enough to pick up one of the last rip-stop DPM jackets and some matching trousers.
Both are very well tailored. Better even than my last bespoke business suit. The jacket’s bellows pockets could swallow the entire contents of my flat, and the waist cord restrains my beer gut to an almost acceptable degree. The trousers have french adjusters, but I tend to wear them with a stiff belt to prevent the dreaded waistline roll-over, another curse of the larger man.
I use trouser blousers to keep the cuffs neatly clear of my boots and out of the mud. The result is a much more professional look, which mentally intimidates the less experienced players on the field. As if.
I will not cover underwear in any great detail, as that truly is my own business, thank you very much. Especially at weekends. Suffice to say I generally wear boxers and a T-shirt unless it’s absolutely brass monkeys, in which case I’ll step up to a set of thermals from M&S.
Likewise, if it’s a bit on the chilly side, I will supplement my underwear with an army surplus Norgie shirt. This is a lightweight fleece which features a collar that can be worn zipped open or rolled up like a turtleneck, to suit the prevailing conditions.
On colder days, I find I always err on the side of wearing too much. Actually, it’s better to wear slightly less than you think you’ll need, as you’ll soon warm up on the field.
Boots and socks
My pride and joy is my pair of Lowa combat boots.
They are more comfortable than my old Swiss hiking boots which cost nearly twice as much. Their Goretex inners keep the water out and the Vibram soles cushion harder surfaces. I will return to their care and maintenance in a later post.
Almost as important as boots are socks. My usual choice is a pair of mid-length tootsie-warmers in Smart Wool. If I ever get round to attending a 24hr game, I will carry an extra pair.
So there you have it. My rag-tag uniform, which is loosely based on a British Army look, but would not pass inspection by any Sergeant Major on earth and carries no – I repeat no – unit insignia. It’s comfy, it washes easily (in Nikwax Tech Wash) and I like it.