It's a very common question: 'What is the most important thing I need in paintball? What do I buy first?'. Well, the answer is not what you would think! The average player would probably say that the paintball marker is the most important part, but this is not true. Yes, a good marker is important because without one you won't be able to shoot out your opponents. But if you shoot you opponent in the mask and they get injured, they might be injured or disabled for the rest of their life. That's right, the number one most important thing in paintball is your mask.
Your mask is what keeps your eyes, ears, mouth, and nose safe. Without those you lose three senses and communication. A paintball will travel at about 290 feet per second - that's 200 miles per hour - towards it's target. If it hits your uncared for, ten year old mask it may just keep on going through the lens. Next time you play, count the number of shots it your mask and you will realize how important your mask is for safety. Remember to take care of your mask and keep it on at all times in the playing area. If your lens has been directly hit multiple times, it should be replaced soon. If it is old or scratched it also needs renewing.
Your mask also affects your game play. A rental-grade mask will be hard to breathe in, it won't cover all of your face, and restrict your sight. You need a well ventilated mask, because you will be working hard in a match and will probably breathe hard. If you can't get enough oxygen to your lungs you will be forced to slow down and that will cost you a game. If your lens is small and restricting you won't have a lot of peripheral vision. Less vision means you can not see your team mates or enemies sneaking up on you. Finally, if your mask does not fit right or not cover up your whole face it isn't dong it's job. A shot to the bit of exposed ear or mouth can really hurt, so keep safe and cover up. A good mask will not necessarily cover your forehead, but all of your ears, mouth, eyes and nose.
Do not cheap out on a mask, it should actually be the one thing you put money into. Research your mask and try it on before you buy. Make sure it fits nice and is comfortable, but is also breathable and won't fall off. After a good bit of research and money-saving, buy a good mask and you won't regret it!