I thought I’d start off reviewing the single most important piece of equipment for any airsofter; eye protection. This is made all the more relevant given an unfortunate incident recently in the south of England, where a young 14-year-old boy lost one of his eyes after a sniper rifle with a round still chambered discharged in the safe zone. I very rarely remove my eye protection once I walk onto an Airsoft site; as I have always used separate eye and lower face/upper head protection I tend to leave my glasses or goggles on even in the safezone, I’ve personally had a few close shaves where people have dropped moscarts shells or launchers and had them spray rounds all over the safezone, on another instance I had a few rounds bounce off my goggles from behind and into my eyes at low power when another person had a negligent discharge. Simply put, you only get one pair of eyes, and, cutting edge technology aside, they are irreplaceable, and furthermore the list of people I trust with loaded replicas around my unprotected eyes is extremely short. You cannot always operate on the assumption that everyone can always enforce or even follow safety rules without error or negligence, so don’t entertain the opportunity to take a round to the eye.
I started out wearing simple ‘science class’ style goggles the likes of which you can pick up from DIY/Hardware stores for a matter of pounds, but being a glasses wearer I eventually decided to invest in something more fit for purpose with integral corrective lenses.
I did quite a bit of background research and settled on Eye Safety Systems (ESS) ICE 2.4 eye shields. These are a single curved piece of ballistic grade plastic which covers the majority of your eye-socket and to which the separate nosepieces and the side legs which hook over your ears - these also have attachment points for an elastic back-strap which ensure the glasses don’t move about or fall off, and which I would strongly recommend using.
The ESS ICE 2.4’s are standard issue with UK armed forces as well as some units of US forces, offering excellent ballistic protection in real-theatre applications against fragmentation and other projectile risks; they are even rated to stop a Walther PPK 7.65mm round… although they are a one use only item in that eventuality!)
I’ve been using them for the majority of my airsofting ‘career’ - if you can call it that – and have always found them to offer great comfort and protection, and the integrated proprietary corrective lenses holder allowed me to get spectacles built into them with not too much expense (around £30 at the time at Specsavers, plus the cost of the ‘Rx’ corrective lens snap in frames). I’ve taken numerous hits to them, and despite being a bit weathered and scratched they’ve never failed me yet. As a point of caution however, I do have to mention that they are quite open around the side of the eye-socket region, where the single piece lens tapers away – this does improve air flow and prevents fogging to some extent (although I do have problems with the corrective lenses attracting sweat and misting up in general when environments are humid), however it also presents and obvious entry point for rounds from the rear/ side of the head – whilst this is usually a fairly improbable shot I have seen a site owner in game have to remove a pellet lodged in the tear duct of his eye after it entered through this path and rolled around the lens and bounced into his eye. Obviously this is a rarity, but it highlights the potential risk of glasses in general; openings will always pose a possible entry point. Thankfully the site owner had no permanent damage to the eye but was understandably a bit shaken by the incident and it presents a case for many sites preferring the use of wrap-around goggles – certainly on my excursions to Spain I’ve noticed that all sites require these and won’t allow the use of ballistic glasses or mesh face protection/eye protection.
When airsofting abroad and more recently in UK CQB environments, I’ve switched to using BOLLE wraparound goggles to better ensure the protection of my eyes, these are also a little more roomy for wearing my standard spectacles under, although they also tend to steam up more when I’m sweaty or in humid environments. Both the ICE and BOLLE eye-pro fit well with my mesh lower face masks and FAST helmet, or standard baseball caps, offering good combined protection for close quarters and intense incoming fire.