For many airsoft players, one of the most fun aspects of the sport is getting to play at soldiers.
Let’s not deny it, it’s a huge part of the thrill.
Choosing weapons and tactics, operating as a unit, achieving objectives, attacking enemy positions – all without actually coming in any genuine harm’s way.
And players go to great lengths to mimic the guns and gear of the world’s finest armed forces, so much so that it can be difficult to tell them apart.
In this article, we explore that in detail, and find out when it comes to airsoft gear vs military gear – is there really any difference?
Buckle up, this is going to be a doozy.
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- Airsoft Gear vs Military Gear – Too Long, Didn’t Read
- Airsoft Gear vs Real Military Gear
Airsoft Gear vs Military Gear – Too Long, Didn’t Read
Before we get into the nuts and bolts of this piece, and compare each part of a typical airsoft loadout with that of military personnel, let’s give you the answer right off the bat.
The truth is, while there are many aspects that are similar between airsoft gear and military gear, it’s never going to be 100% identical.
Combat-sport playing civilians generally won’t be allowed access to everything when it comes to genuine military hardware, clothing, and equipment.
Having said that, items of clothing like these tactical pants are certainly not a million miles away from what police response and armed forces might use, and there are military-brands that us civvies can purchase from.
You’ll find more about the brands and manufacturers, below.
For the most part, they do have a very similar aesthetic, which is all you really need for playing airsoft.
Wearing something that looks like it might stop a bullet, is just as good (if not better) to wearing something that actually can stop a bullet.
In the end, airsoft gear will still be the poor-man’s military gear – and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that – particularly when you consider the price difference.
Airsoft Gear vs Real Military Gear
Let’s get this out of the way at the beginning. Obviously, if the military boys were going to war with a bunch of airsoft rifles, we’d be looking at a very different global geopolitical set up.
We know that these guns aren’t real – that’s how we can enjoy firing them at each other.
However, that’s not to say they don’t look and often feel like the real thing. Take a look at the gas-powered airsoft pistols in that review, for an example.
Airsoft guns have come a long way since their first inception, and some of today’s top products are almost indistinguishable from their real firearm counterparts.
As such, they should be treated with the same respect, and not waved around in public.
Many fields insist that an airsoft rifle has the blaze orange tip on the barrel, and you will not be allowed to play without one.
But if you want to learn more about that key feature, including if you can actually remove it, head on over to this article about orange airsoft gun tips.
Either way, while there is a big difference between the projectiles fired and the power, when it comes to aesthetics, airsoft guns are getting closer to firearms all the time.
Let’s take a closer look at your potential BDU options (Battle Dress Uniform) for a typical airsoft game.
For MilSim players, owning the right helmet can make or break their airsoft experience, but even the dedicated guys often balk at purchasing a real steel Kevlar military version.
Most airsoft helmets are replicas, but they still look great and offer a decent amount of protection, without the extra weight and heat.
Players like to mount their headgear with sports cameras and flashlights to record the action, and if that’s your thing, you should look for compatible hardware and attachments.
These awesome airsoft goggles are essential for eye protection, regardless of if you choose to wear a helmet or not.
And some replica helmets will be compatible with comms-links, radios, and other communication devices – just like the real thing. Make sure you factor that into your choice if that’s something that you’re interested in.
Watch the video below for a more in-depth look at the differences between a military-grade tactical helmet and a cheaper airsoft counterpart.
The tactical plate carrier system was developed as torso armor for the US military, as well as other fighting forces around the world.
It’s basically a lightweight, practical version of a bullet-proof vest, and is commonly found to utilize the MOLLE system – Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment.
You’ll also find this system on many of these tactical messenger bags, and other such backpacks and accessories.
The main difference between military plate carriers and airsoft versions will be the actual ability to carry plates.
And unless you’re going for an ultra-realistic MilSim, you’re not going to want to heave around the extra weight.
Check out this article on the best budget-friendly airsoft plate carriers if you don’t want to spend a small fortune to get this look.
Jackets and Vests
Of all the clothing and apparel available for airsoft and military reenactment, it is perhaps the jackets and vests that are the closest in similarities.
Unless you’re buying a very poor-quality knock-off, you’re not going to notice much difference here.
Pants and Boots
The market is filled with tactical pant options, as just about every outdoor brand offers their own take on the garment in some form or another.
You can spend as much or as little as you want here, but I would recommend putting a large percentage of your budget into the best pants you can afford – as they’re going to take a beating.
The same can be said for boots, and you can check out this article for advice on what can and can’t be worn as official military footwear.
And take a look at this piece for some of the best tactical combat boots for flat feet. Even if you don’t have flat feet, you’ll still need something that’s going to be super-comfortable for day-long use.
Either way, when it comes to real steel military vs airsoft, there’s not a lot in it with this gear, and personally, I have pants and boots for airsoft that could easily be used in a combat theater.
Magazine Pouches and Holsters
Much like the pants and boots, you’ll find that real steel magazine pouches and holsters will be very similar to their airsoft counterparts, so much so that you will likely not be able to tell the difference.
Many players I know – myself included – use a real, military-grade holster for their sidearm. This article on drop leg holsters should get you started.
Airsoft magazine pouches tend to be smaller than the real thing, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find compatible real steel versions for your airsoft ammo.
These tactical chest rigs are ideal for storing magazines and other useful gear when you’re out in the field.
We’ve covered the best brands in airsoft when it comes to the guns – and you can follow that link for a full rundown of the movers and shakers in the industry.
For high-end apparel and products that are as close to real military gear as possible, you want to be looking at CRYE Precision, LBT, Eagle Industries, and Velocity Systems – to name but a few.
Other, noncommercial military contractors are also in play, such as Armor Express, who supply the current plate carriers to the US armed forces.
For more affordable tactical clothing, Condor, TMC Tactical, 5.11, and Emerson Gear should be on your radar.
Of course, there are far more out there, with plenty of cheap knock-offs if you really want to save a few dollars.
Take a look at this article on the best tactical clothing brands for more information.
The Price and Quality
At the end of the day, this is what it all boils down to – the price and the quality.
You get what you pay for, and there’s a real difference in the quality of a $700 plate carrier and a $50 plate carrier.
But ask yourself, do you really need something that’s actually capable of carrying plates? Do you need a genuine bullet-proof vest for airsoft?
Some dedicated MilSim players certainly do.
And when it comes to clothing like tactical pants, I would say it’s definitely worth throwing as much as you possibly can on the real steel products.
Don’t forget about the fit, which is likely to be much more comfortable, and perfectly designed for unrestrictive movement, the higher up the price scale you go.
My advice? Suit the price you pay to how much use you’re going to get out of it – and how seriously you want to take this sport.
Likewise, when it comes to clothing materials, do you really need to spend hundreds getting the cutting-edge flame-retardant shirt for airsoft play?
As with any review on this website, when it comes to budget, you should always buy the best you can afford – with a direct correlation to how much time it spends in the closet, compared to in the field.
Having said that, I’ll bet my bottom dollar I could put together a budget-friendly airsoft loadout and compare it to a super-expensive kit and only those with an experienced, keen eye would be able to tell the difference.
But the final caveat to that, is how much wear and tear it will need to withstand. And your typical airsoft player is certainly going to need clothing that can take a beating – and then some.
A Word on Accurate Role-play
It’s worth noting this before we conclude this article, as we want to cover our butts, and make sure you cover yours.
While most MilSim airsoft games keep within the bounds of the rules, remember it is an offense to impersonate a police officer, and you must not commit a fraudulent act while wearing a replica military uniform.
This is why some airsofters can get a bad-rep from genuine military guys. It’s all about the Stolen Valor Act.
The jury is out on whether you can or can’t wear replica badges or insignia, particularly if you have a family member who belongs or belonged to a particular unit.
Regardless, I think you should err on the side of caution, and show respect if you’re running a historically accurate role-play or other such scenario.
The Verdict – Real Steel vs Airsoft
To the untrained eye, there isn’t going to be much difference between the two. It’s when you get up close that you can tell them apart.
And, of course, when you look at the price tag.
In the end, for most casual airsoft skirmish play on a weekend down your local field, you don’t need all the bells and whistles. And don’t let snobby players tell you otherwise.
Many airsofters use second-hand military gear from a surplus store to great effect, without the need to throw big bucks on cutting-edge clothing and equipment.
For dedicated MilSim, feel free to spend as much or as little as you like, but for the most part, the only person who is going to know if it’s the real-deal or not – is you.
As a side note, your preferences might also depend on where you play. Many UK and European fields don’t put as much truck on accurate gear as their more military-minded US brothers and sisters.
Personally, I prefer to spend that money on my gun.
Take a look at this article on what to wear for airsoft if you’re looking for some basic, but highly practical information, and watch the video below for an experienced player’s perspective on this topic.
Do I need to wear real gear for airsoft?
No, you do not. Don’t be fooled or bullied into thinking you’re not a genuine player if you can’t afford the high-end gear and equipment.
While it is highly recommended if you’re going to properly get into the sport, “real steel” stuff is very expensive.
But further down the line, it’s certainly going to last much longer than pretty much anything else available. The more you play, the better quality the gear you’re going to need.
Do I need a plate carrier for MilSim?
Again, no. Not to start out with.
Sure, if you’re looking at getting into MilSim seriously, then you should invest further down the line, but since you don’t actually need a bullet-proof vest for airsoft, you don’t need a plate carrier.
What gear do I need for airsoft?
Aside from a gun, a good airsoft mask, and goggles, you don’t need much more than a set of clothing you don’t mind getting dirty, and you can run around in.
I played my first airsoft game in a pair of old cargo pants and a hoodie, wearing tennis trainers, and some fingerless kayaking gloves I had lying around.
As you get more involved, you can invest more time and money building a military-accurate loadout, but to begin with, the bare-bones will suffice.
And don’t let any snobs tell you otherwise.
When it comes to aesthetics, there might not be a great deal of difference between airsoft vs military gear.
But when it comes to price and quality, one is generally head and shoulders above the other.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this article, and it’s given you some food for thought when you choose your airsoft loadout.
Let me know which products you prefer to go for and why, or if you have any other advice for the community on airsoft gear and equipment in general.
Stay safe out there, call your hits, and happy airsofting!