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Field Armor Exoskeleton
By Bill Mills - May 2004
For some people the moment they hear about paintball they can’t wait to play. For others there’s no way they are going to ever try “that crazy war game.” There is a third group of people though, those who think the idea of the game is fun and exciting, but are afraid of getting hurt by a paintball hit. For that group of potential players, the Field Armor Exoskeleton may be the ticket to get into the game.
Players who have been active on the
Internet since the early 1990s, may remember the discussions of mouse-pad
armor from the rec.sport.paintball newsgroup. Field Armor takes that
concept to a level of professional construction in their exoskeleton.
The Field Armor Exoskeleton is modern day armor for the paintball player. In structure it is a jumpsuit with integrated padding and protection designed to reduce the risk of welts and bruises for a paintball player. Field Armor is available in a variety of versions, for players who want all black or camo, as well as for referees, field staff and photographers. The suit’s construction is primarily made from a lightweight nylon like synthetic material. While durable, the choice of materials keeps the suit from becoming too heavy. Depending on size the exoskeletons range in weight from three to five pounds.
Sewn into the suit covering is a dense cell foam, similar in weight and flexibility to the neoprene used in wetsuits. The foam armor sections protect the fronts of the shins, the knees, the fronts and backs of the thighs, the buttocks, the groin, the back, the outer upper and lower arms, the elbows, the backs of the hands, the chest, the neck and throat. An additional hood, reminiscent of JT’s “Anti Ambush Hood” from the late 80s lacks padding, but does provide additional head protection, as well as tying in the color or camo pattern of the suit to the head.
Donning the suit gives the feeling of something between joining the Colonial Marines from the Alien films, and an old Tom Mix western. The suit is worn by stepping into the legs, and then slipping one’s arms into the sleeves. A single, heavy duty zipper closes the suit in the center of the front . Behind the legs, and on the inside of the arms are a number of nylon webbing straps held in place by simple lever latches. Each of these straps is easily operated single-handedly, so one does not need assistance putting on the exoskeleton. With the straps snugged tight and the integrated web belt drawn and clasped around the front the exoskeleton goes from a bulky jumpsuit to a form fitting uniform. The padded collar secures with a hook and loop fastener to cover the throat. Elastic drawstrings prevent the leg cuffs from becoming bellbottoms. A pair of mesh vents on the sides of the chest allow the suit to breathe for comfort when off the field. The chest is protected by a single front panel pad. It can be secured in the closed position with a zipper, or folded back on itself and held with a couple of snaps to allow air flow to the vented mesh section. In style of cut, the front panel is reminiscent of a 1920s cowboy shirt or druggists uniform, crossing the chest and securing on the side.
The Stalker (woodland camo) and Ballistic (black) versions of the exoskeleton integrate the functions of a paintball back right into the suit. The Stalker Pro model maintains these features and adds ruffled woodland camo material strips for a three dimensional effect much like a ghillie suit.
A row of three pockets on the right hip are sized to hold 100 round paintball pods. One hundred and forty round pods will also fit on the right hip, when the elastic retainer straps are stretched to near their limit. Up between the rib cage and left arm are strips the can hold two more 100 or 140 round tubes. A pocket on the right side of the rib cage is large enough for a small paint grenade, and hip pockets are zippered for car keys and the like. A short narrow pocket on the left thigh is complimented by a loop just below the hip to secure a squeegee in easy reach.
In addition to the Stalker and Ballistic models, the exoskeleton is available in an all orange version with no pod-holders and the word “REFEREE” printed across the chest. Two-piece versions of the suit are available for large players with waist sizes of up to 46 inches and custom orders are also possible.
The exoskeleton reviewed for this article was a large Stalker model in woodland camo. Surprisingly once on, the suit was not at all restrictive, providing easy movement. It was noted that the groin area is not completely padded, and the additional protection of a sports cup is a good idea. The gaps between most of the padded areas are approximately one inch, and in places necessary to maintain flexibility for the wearer.
Informal testing of the suit involved the test volunteer being shot at with a barrage of approximately 30 DraXxus Hellfire paintballs from distance of 50 feet with a 2003 Shocker which had been adjusted to 295 feet per second. Despite the comfort of the suit there was still a tendency to duck and swerve to avoid being hit by the paint. A hit to the inside of the elbow and another to the lower front of the thigh stung and bruised, as did another on the shoulder. It was only after the test firing that the subject learned that most of the thirty shots had hit him, the only ones that he even felt had struck the seams between pads in the suit, and a third that bounced off the top of the back pad and up under the earpiece of his Profiler mask.
In the heat of a Florida mid day sun, the ability to fold over the chest pad allowing air through the suit’s vents was a welcome relief when stepping off of the field.
Upon inspection of the suit after firing, it was determined that no paintballs had broken on any of the suit’s padded sections. While the existence of the padding would prohibit the use of the exoskeleton under most major tournament series rules, fields allowing their use for recreational play may wish to count bounced paintballs as well as broken paintballs for eliminations, much as scenario game rules do with ghillie suits.
The Field Armor Exoskeleton represents
a surprising level of protection against bruises and welts for paintball
players. In addition having a market amongst paintball players, the
exoskeletons also pose an opportunity as rental equipment for paintball
fields looking to offer a way to introduce new players to the game of paintball.
The suit may be used them as a way to overcome their fear of getting hit
by a paintball.