Paintball in the thick of winter is something that very few paintball sites give any advice on. You’re probably reading this article because you don’t want to pack up your gear for the winter and sit around oiling you gun like everyone else. The environmental conditions out there affect how you will play in the snow, and how your gear will want to react to it. For OSOK members, remaining undetected in a seemingly white open landscape of nothingness looks difficult, sniping is more a stealth mind set than a shooting mind set. Well not to fear, you are given plenty of opportunity to camouflage yourself in this environment, and certain tactics work better than others when you compare this to summer play. And for the homegrown gear maker in many of us, there are a few tips choosing snow gear and ideas how to make our own on the cheep.
General Concealment Considerations
a. In winter the whiteness of the countryside emphasizes any item which may not blend in naturally with the surroundings. Every movement by players or vehicles leaves tracks in the snow. Before every movement, consideration must be given to how these tracks can be kept to a minimum. Nature may assist by covering tracks with newly fallen snow or by providing a storm in which movement will be concealed.
b. Snowdrifts and vehicle tracks may be utilized when found in the battlefield. Snow fills in ditches and rolling ground and tends to flatten the terrain in general. On the downwind side of every obstacle, tree, house, and bush there is always a hollow which may provide an excellent observation point or firing position
c. Snow banks beside plowed roads and tracks often provide excellent cover in wintertime.
a. White nylon pants and jacket cover are pretty much the best you can do in the snow. When moving through the forest, Ghost mentions he would wear the white pants, and take off the white top. Green top, white bottom, like a tree, base covered in snow, and the rest brown, or green in the case of an evergreen tree. When moving into open ground, the white top would go on because there was only snow to blend in with. So if he got bumped, he could go to ground and disappear into the snowfield. It’s probably best to stay away from the 1-piece units and go with the 2-piece.
b. In open forest areas during the winter, men wearing "whites" should avoid the dark background of trees. In the same manner, if wearing dark clothing, men should stay under trees and avoid the open. Common sense of Camo applies, try to always see what the enemy would see if looking at you. Take for instance the picture below, the whites show up for a long distance.
c. After freshly fallen snow has melted a while and the dead tones of brown and grey start to re-appear. Ghillie suits begin to work again when the forest turns into this melting state, just stay close to dead bushes, melted piles of leaves, and clusters of trees. Be wary of silhouetting yourself, because the ground behind you may still be all white.
d. All equipment worn on the outside should be camouflaged. Contrasting equipment worn on the camouflage suit will increase the possibility of enemy detection. Loose items such as grenades or field glasses should be kept concealed inside the suit.
Breathing and Muzzle Clouds
Firing of Paintball guns like breathing will, in extreme cold, a small cloud of fog or vapor which can be seen by the enemy even though the marker or player is well concealed. You can hide your breath for a short time under a scarf or balaclava much easier than you can hide marker vapor. A barrel extension should help a little with that, but compressed air would go a lot further and deal with other cold weather technical problems discussed later.
a. Still, Cold air carries sound much farther than in temperate climates. All sounds must be kept to a minimum. Noise caused by talking, hopper rattle, tank ringing, or stomping through snow crust may warn the enemy of activity at extreme distances. If you must whisper only do it when you breathe in, which makes for more controlled sound level especially when you are fatigued and out of breath.
b. Metal tanks ring often when touching hard snow, ice, and frozen branches. Putting a neoprene or fleece cover over a tank will help stop the sound and protect your tank from scratches as a plus. Hoppers can be lined with moleskin which is silicone glued to the inside of the hopper. Thin padded plumbers tape works too, but the glue may not stand up to the cold tempters and cause problems. Neoprene covers can be added to the outside of the hopper muffling the sound a little bit but do not warm the Co2 or the gun.
a. Tracks are a welcome sign to the enemy, covering them is very tough in snow. Number and size of trails must be kept to a minimum. Individuals may be forced to use only a certain trail.
b. Army Field Manual FM 23-1 Chapter 8 Tracking/Counter Tracking is a great resource for teaching yourself how to track people. It is useful for tracking in the summer also. Walk outside, then run, then walk backwards in the snow or mud. Then try the techniques they show here for tracking. You’ll find that they work very well, even for large groups of people, if you use your head a little.
a. White is the predominant color in winter and snow is the most important camouflage material, by intelligent use of camouflage clothing and equipment together with what nature makes available, effective individual and group camouflage can be achieved.
b. Improvised camouflage clothes can be made from white tape, burlap, snow camo nets, or paint. White paper, when wet, can be applied and allowed to freeze on all kinds of surfaces. Snow thrown over the object helps to increase the camouflage effect. Gun wraps can be sewn from old urban camo BDU’s or old white sheets to help hide your marker.
c. White paint has many uses in winter camouflage. Markers, masks, and boots souls can be effectively painted with white non-glossy paint.
d. Camo skin paint can be used to effectively hide exposed skin, but chances are you will want to cover that exposed skin from the cold, so white gloves, scarf, hood, or a head wrap would be a better bet.
Camouflage and Concealment of Small Groups
a. In selecting a fighting or observation position, pick an area which does not need to be disturbed too much. The downside to this is that the enemy may check such areas frequently which may compromise you. Begin Camouflaging the position as soon as you arrive, rest later. Make your approaches under the concealment offered by trees or bushes, behind snowdrifts or slopes, and in shaded areas. Snow removed from the position should be thrown to the enemy side. If the position is of snow or ice construction, it must be rounded off in order to avoid reflection and marked shadows. Overhead tarpaulins or camouflage nets should be used to cover any extensive digging in snow or earth.
b. In placing an individual it is most important that he is not silhouetted or contrasted with his background. Low positions that Mend into the background is the secret.
c. If time allows, positions can be greatly improved by constructing an overhead cover of suitably camouflaged materials such as branches, nets, blankets, etc.
Movement in Heavy Snow
a. Stepping quietly in snow depends on the depth. If the snow is only a couple of inches deep, then heel to toe should work fine. If the snow is deep then it really doesn’t matter all that much because you'll be sinking into it anyway.
b. Avoid bushes: Avoid bushes first because branches rubbing against your kit make a loud sound (especially against nylon, metal, and plastic). Also the snow clinging to the branches will fall if disturbed and the movement will draw the eye. Frozen branches will smack together like dropping a dump truck load of chop sticks on concrete and is unmistakable to the enemy if there is no wind blowing at the time.
c. Luckily, the light fluffy structure of the snow easily absorbs sound, especially when it's falling. That means sound won't travel as far, but on the flipside any noise here seems amplified and unnatural.
a. Digging firing positions in soft or hard snow is relatively easy and quick (if you’ve brought an entrenching tool/shovel to the game). A position in the snow is only temporary and cannot withstand artillery (paintball sabot/anti-tank nerf rounds anyone?) and continuous small arms fire. Icing of the position or use of tree trunks and branches will afford added protection. Sandbags filled with snow may be used quite effectively for this purpose.
b. The digging oppositions in snow and the types constructed are, in general, similar to those discussed in FM 5-15. Foxholes, trenches, and other types are used.
c. Every effort must be made toward improvement of positions; snow blocks, ice blocks, sandbags, logs, and branches can be used to strengthen them. In addition, water may be poured onto the snow to form ice. In static positions, when time allows water mixed with dirt, sand, or gravel can be poured into wooden forms. This is called "ice Crete." The ice Crete must be well tamped as it is poured to make it compact. Usually there is no necessity for removing the forms unless the wood is required for other purposes. Ice Crete is darker than ice and will absorb more heat from the rays of the sun, causing melting. Ice Crete construction must therefore be covered with snow, both to overcome its melting and to camouflage its contrasting color. Ice Crete is much stronger than ice, provides considerable protection from small arms fire and shell fragments, and is a useful material for preparation of defensive positions. Ice Crete, however, is brittle, and sustained fire reduces its protectiveness, thus requiring frequent repairs
Effects of snow and Ice on Grenade splatter.
a. Loose snow greatly reduces the effects of paint grenades going off. Grenades which have difficulty blowing apart on favorable hard surfaces (ex. Tippmann grenades) will have much more difficulty on soft snow. Making the grenade bounce once then detonate is preferred, some grenades like the meteor grenades are designed to do this but require practice. Air bursting the grenade by making it blow apart upon hitting trees or tree trunks is even more difficult. Tying one end of the grenade under a sturdy tree branch and tying the business end down with a piece of strong fishing line works great for trip wires and remote detonations. This sprays the paint from above without the problems of having the grenade hit a soft snow pillow. Solid ice is a different story, usually making the grenade blow apart on contact. See “Paint Grenades” on PBZ for more info on basic paint grenade mischief.
b. Most grenades will lose effectiveness if they are cold for a long period of time. If the paint inside doesn’t freeze all together it may gum up and refuse to pour out like its designed to. Be sure to test your grenade after leaving it outside for a few hours just to be sure, if it doesn’t detonate properly, you’ll be glad you didn’t find out on the field.
a. Tripwires should be placed at various levels above the snow when using pull-action igniters. Tripwires placed beneath the surface of the snow often freeze in and fail to function. Time permitting, tripwires should be painted white as well as the grenade. Covering a paintball grenade with snow will make it less effective.
Technical Considerations – Marker Problems
a. Paintball oil is designed to work at low temperatures due to the cooling effect of the pressure drop of gasses flowing through markers. They should be fine. Reliable guns are the key in winter paintball since moisture can get inside and cause parts to have more resistance and shrink with uneven cooling.
b. Keeping tanks and hoppers warm.
A lot of people put socks over tanks to keep them warm. If the gas inside the tank is cold, then the sock will only reduce the effect of ambient temperature changes. The tank will still chill as you shoot with it. Many people use hot packs or battery powered socks to keep their tanks warm. It should work, as long as the rate of fire is kept low and the tank doesn’t overheat. They are only supposed to go up to a certain temperature before the need to have them tested, so be careful.
c. Keeping paint loaders inside your coat keeps them warm with body heat. Frozen balls have a number of problems, refusing to feed down into the marker being one of them. A smart tactic is to only load the hopper half full, it puts less pressure on the balls, and when you re-load, you’re putting in warm stuff. If you have a remote line, store your tank inside your jacket and it cooling off won't be a problem. Diablo and RPS are now making paint for cold weather with different shells and an anti-freeze agent.
d. Two thoughts to strongly consider with cold paint:
As the paint cools, the fill gets smaller. Therefore its mass decreases. The shell doesn’t shrink as rapidly, so as the paint gets colder, it dimples more. Sometimes making huge craters in them.
The shell of the ball is made of Gelatin and water. As the ball dries in the factory, it shrinks down to the desired size. So the amount of water in the shell affects the size of the ball. The water content also governs the elasticity (stretchiness) of the gelatin shell. When the water is drawn out, the ball becomes more brittle. Combine that with the stress of the shrinking fill, and you can easily break a ball without touching it just by cooling it enough. Put some paint in the freezer overnight and see what happens to it. So now you have a very brittle ball, with a bunch of internal stresses on it.
c. Optics are usually nitrogen filled, meaning that they do not fog up on the inside unless the nitrogen seal is broken and the gas escapes. It is possible that cheap optics may not have this and would fog up quickly. If the unit does have condensation or heavy fogging leave it in the cold all the time so it remains at one tempter.
a. Gore-Tex. It's waterproof, and lets the moisture from the body evaporate. It only works when it's clean. Dirt, sweat, and oil block up the weave and trap moisture in if it is allowed to build up. Polypropylene is a good but expensive set of thermal underwear. It wicks moisture away from the body. Polar fleece will do this too. It is possible to break out in a sweat, be completely dry, and have a layer of ice on your back while still being warm in this combination.
b. Loose layers are the way to go. They trap dead air and you can peel off layers as required to avoid overheating yourself, and then add them back on when you slow down or encounter bitter winds.
c. Sunglasses help deal with the reflection of the sun off of the snow. Ultra Violet sunglasses are commonly used by fishermen to see fish in the water by overcoming the reflection with such glasses, and some hunters claim it does the same for spotting game. Using to dark of a sunglass will defeat this and make it difficult to see anything, so chose wisely. Studies are also showing that wearing sunglasses whenever outdoors reduces your chances of getting cataracts significantly later on in life, something to consider for sure.
d. All white overalls can be commonly bought at places like Wall Mart (shiver), painters supply, and auto body stores. You can usually find something water proof and all white for under $15. One piece garments in winter do keep the snow from getting down your pants when you crawl, but they are difficult to remove as you cool yourself after running short marathons under fire. These are a decent compromise, just put your favorite warm clothing underneath and go play.
e. Knee pads are something everyone could use in paintball, and during the winter they make life easier. If you are standing up straight or moving and you need to suddenly take a knee and fire, you won’t be squeamish about planting one in the snow or onto a hidden rock. It will also keep your knee dry and let you stay kneeling for an extended period of time with very little knee fatigue, plus there is added protection in case of a fall. Knee pads are available at Home Depot, any place that sells to contractors, and nearly every kind of sporting goods store. A good pair will run around $20, they should have at least two leg straps and a plastic or metal front plate so they give good protection. I personally know a player who suffered a 2 year healing knee injury from paintball, she barely missed surgery and didn’t go to a single soccer practice where her knee didn’t burn for hours and swell up. Knee pads quickly pay for themselves, so give them some thought.
f. Camo painting your mask helps a great deal. People look for unnatural objects, a black JT Elite isn’t exactly something that grows off the side of trees. A little white or brown spray paint should do the job and costs next to nothing at home depot. I’ve noticed a lot of Olive Drab, desert tan, hunter green, and dark brown being sold in home depot under some brand name that equaled out to “Yuppie Paints” for crafts and home furniture use, which are identical to the camo paint sets sold at sporting goods stores for inflated prices. Goggle Skinz are a good thing to consider, find one that matches your surroundings and your camo to make it blend in better.
Basic Rules for Foot Movement in a Group
Guidelines for large scale movements in snow covered terrain.
a. Insure that everyone is aware of the mission, route, etc. Equipment must be checked and loads evenly distributed. Dispatch trail breaking teams far enough in advance to insure continuous, uninterrupted movement of the main body. Men should be dressed as lightly as possible and in layers consistent with the weather to reduce excessive perspiring and subsequent chilling.
b. The first halt after initiating a march should be made in approximately 15 minutes. This will allow adjustment of clothing and equipment. Subsequent halts should be frequent and of short duration to insure rest and to prevent chilling. Warm drinks should be provided during the march if possible. Have everyone sit in a wagon wheel or 360 pattern facing out in case the enemy surprises you.
c. The buddy system is mandatory in the Cold and men must be instructed to watch their buddy carefully for early signs of frostbite or exposure. Players must not be allowed to fall out of the line of march. Normally, the second-in-command will bring up the rear of the column and, in each halt, will check the men and report their condition to the leader.
d. The classic Law of the 7 P’s applies. Proper Previous Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance. Prior detailed reconnaissance is most important to insure successful mobility as always. Maps may not always be accurate. Without detailed reconnaissance and prior planning, unit movement may be slowed or stopped by long detours or obstacles.
e. Marching in single file is often the best formation. It maintains track discipline, camouflage, and reduces the number of trailbreakers and reconnaissance parties required. Natural obstacles may limit the use of other formations. Large units in single file however, become excessively long and will be slow to react to enemy action to the front or rear. Tactical considerations will often require the use of other formations. Using radios on the same channel is advised to keep everyone in touch if this is the case.
f. Covered terrain. Whenever possible the trail should follow along forest terrain with tall trees and little underbrush. It provides good concealment and protection against wind. The trail should be broken close to bushy trees in order to provide better concealment. Thickets and windfall forest areas should be avoided, as it requires a great amount of effort to break a trail in areas of this type.
g. Heavy Snow Conditions: Maximum advantage should be taken for movement during periods of reduced visibility, such as snowstorms. These storms will conceal movement and at times completely camouflage the trail after the unit has moved over it. Care should be exercised to preclude moving directly into a strong wind. Movement in the same direction of the wind usually requires much less effort. Under the most adverse conditions, navigation will also become extremely difficult, waypoints for compasses will be difficult to see. Trails may become covered very quickly after being broken, requiring the distance between the trail breaking unit and the main body to be shortened. Adverse conditions such as driving snowstorms will slow the movement but will facilitate security.
a. The purpose snowshoes in paintball seems a bit far fetched unless you reside in places with enormous amounts of snow. Individuals using snowshoes in those conditions may gain the advantage over opponents who are nearly stationary in waist high snow without them. Under favorable snow conditions they may be left piled together at the final coordination point or tied to his gear.
Night Vision in snow
a. If anything, snow helps NV work. Snow is made of reflective ice particles. This actually makes it easier to see at night. Starlight is reflected off of the snow giving the NV unit more light to work with.
b. Thermal Imagers are another story. The cold environment makes for a better contrast between hot and cold so things will show up better. Persons wishing to avoid detection should put barriers between them which they do not lean against. This may not reduce their heat signature all together, but it may make them look like something other than a human shape.
c. Your NV device most likely has a battery powering it, remember to keep a spare set of batteries warm and dry inside your heavy clothing. Cold batteries decrease in amperage in the cold, meaning that they last for shorter periods of time. A dry cell battery at 0* Fahrenheit is about 40% of the power it would have at room temp.
Snow Ambushes/Hides Summary
a. When choosing an ambush position have blinding snow at your back, the enemy will most likely avoid looking into it even with a mask on because he will only see flakes hitting his mask. This reduces your chances of being seen, allowing you to chose the time and conditions of the ambush.
b. Remember that engagements in the winter tend to be long range compared to that of temperate weather. No cover exists, and camo is very difficult at close range. Measures should be taken to stop and “lay dog” to listen for anything out of place and force your self to scan the area systematically as to not stumble into an engagement without notice.
c. Taking the high ground makes for a great defensive position because your opponents must struggle to get uphill while taking fire and being fully exposed. If the uphill is a steep one, be sure to control the easiest access routs up the hill which an opponent will want to travel up on expending the minimum energy, ammo, and personnel to achieve. That doesn’t mean you leave the difficult routs unprotected, a smart player will attack through the backdoor, humping his way up the worst possible terrain trying to sneak up on your position.
d. Magnification optics which are compatible with paintball masks (meaning they have some sort of eye relief), is something to consider. It may allow you to spot something that the naked eye would simply notice as suspicious, but the detail the optics provides may prove that it IS in fact a mask, armband, or hopper that you noticed.
e. A buddy can cover a sniper with snow (if the sniper is dressed warm and waterproof) or sprinkle a little over a snow camo net helping him blend in greatly. Then the spotter can carefully find a flanking spot, with a great field of view, and warn the sniper of the enemy moving into their Area of Ops by radio and they can react accordingly depending on their particular mission. If done right the sniper can hide in an open field this way, as well as under cover. Special care should be taken for safety’s sake that this isn’t done for an extended time and that no unprotected skin comes in contact with the snow, the observer should check on his partner regularly, even if its only breaking squelch twice and then once for the response.
Playing Safe and Hypothermia
a. Hypothermia - As the human body cools down, a number of things start to happen. First, the body wants to generate heat. The muscles do that by burning stored food energy by working. As the muscles work to move and metabolize the sugars in your blood, (shaking, teeth chattering) they heat up. The heat is then transferred to the blood by conduction, and then distributed to the rest of the body. In an attempt to keep heat in the vital organs and the brain, the blood flow to the extremities is reduced. Since the blood carries the fuel and oxygen to the body, the extremities are then somewhat starved. Delicate tasks become harder because the cold numbs the nerves and the muscles that move the fingers are starving. When you get too cold, the blood flow is so restricted that the muscles in your body get tired, starved, and give up. Now you're in real trouble. You can't generate your own heat anymore. You start to shut down. Thinking slows and so do reaction times. You start to make mistakes you normally wouldn't. You get tired, fall asleep and never wake up.
b. Avoidance - Remember this. C.O.L.D. Clean clothes, avoid Overheating, Layers, Dry. Insulation works by trapping air against your body and not allowing it to leave. So if you can trap a large volume of air next to the skin, you stay warm. Dirt, sweat and oil can all fill up the empty spaces in your clothing reducing the amount of air they can hold. Go out in clean clothing whenever possible. Overheating leads to sweating, and that's the body's method of cooling. If you sweat in your clothing, the moisture will try to evaporate. To do that, it takes heat away from your body, and the moisture takes the place of the air in your insulating layer. Layered clothing can be peeled off to avoid the problem of overheating and the space between the layers traps air inside them as well. Stay dry.
c. Wind Chill - This is something else to worry about in the cold. When the wind blows, it rips away that layer of warm air in contact with your body. Now, you have to heat up a cold parcel of air all over again, further cooling your skin off. The faster the wind is, the more warm air is peeled away from you. The cooling effect of the wind can be so strong, in some places, exposed skin can freeze in 2 minutes.
d. Dehydration - The tissues in the lungs are wet and warm. They have to be in order to work. No liquid there, no breathing. It's as simple as that. Cold air can still hold moisture, but not a whole lot. The amount of water vapor that can be held in the air decreases with temperature. That means when you take a parcel of air and warm it up, it's capacity to hold moisture increases. It actually doubles for every 10 degree Celsius increase in temperature. The Relative Humidity greatly affects the rate of evaporation. Relative Humidity is defined as "The amount of water vapor an air mass can hold compared to the amount of water vapor it is currently holding." So a relative humidity of 80% means the air is holding 80% of the water that it can hold. So much for the basic meteorology lesson. Let's now look at what happens to the cold outside air as it enters the lungs. When you breathe in cold air, its capacity to hold moisture increases dramatically as it warms up. Air that went in at a relative humidity of 80% at freezing may now have a RH of 10% which means it can now hold 70% more water than when it came in to the lungs. The air draws the water out of your lung tissue like it or not. This dries out the inside of your lungs and your body replaces the moisture as fast as it can. This means you now have to drink more water to keep up with the loss. It is way too easy to dehydrate in the winter. Co-incidentally, when you breathe out again, the air cools off and looses its ability to hold moisture, reaches 100% RH and forms a cloud.
e. Eating snow to replace the water lost by breathing and working can be dangerous. When the snow melts in your mouth, it cools off the body. Ever eat ice cream to cool off on a hot day? Same thing happens in the winter. If you're shivering, (first stage of hypothermia) eating snow will cool you off even more and make the situation worse. However, if you're starting to overheat, by all means, go ahead and eat clean snow. It will cool you off and solve the pesky overheating problem.
Have fun and play safe
Special thanks to Ghost for providing lots of information on the subject.