I got my first night vision device when i was 11 years old… An old Gen 1 Bushnell device that was loud, required a constant press of the top button to use and ghosted extremely badly. All the same, whilst a cadet it was a massive advantage and it made night navigation and fieldcraft a lot easier. I cant remember selling it but I’m sure it was sold around the same time as a new game or something came out, And thus i was back in the company of the “Daywalkers”, reliant on white light and carrots to see me through the dark. Before we get stuck in, I apologise for the excessive use of Garand Thumb imagery in advance, but in my defence, his gear looks shit hot and he’s a knowledgeable Guy.
I’ll not bore you with what I do now, But I left my career in sales for a job I’m pretty overqualified in… But the flip side is that I have a far better work life balance and actually enjoy overcoming the challenges I face at work. It was around the time I started looking for work outside of sales that I acquired NODs (Night Observation Device)… A good friend was looking to move to a dual tube set up and so was looking to sell on an older monocle, Albeit housing a very competent Gen 3 tube.
At the time, I was buying gear and replicas like I was preparing for an airsoft apocalypse, And I knew that if I didn’t buy NODs now, I might never buy them at all. Also having watched 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi the day before his for sale post going live had cemented a need for “green eyes”.
And therein lies your first inherent risk, Ensuring that your buying something that is working as it should and also won’t land you in trouble with the law.
There are many options for buying NODs, from new commercial units from the likes of Act In Black based in Luxembourg and TNVG over in the states… To buying something you fully know is dodgy.
A well known site owner within the UK Airsoft scene was has recently been in the news for his appropriation and reselling of units that were known to be MOD stock, Now the guy himself fessed up to his wrongdoing, The funny (Well, maybe not funny) part was seeing the amount of airsofters who only weeks before had been playing at one of his sites and shaking his hand… Only to then cast him out into the wilderness, Whilst coyly nudging their own dubiously acquired NODs back under the bed. Laughable but unfortunately part of the band wagon culture we have in Airsoft.
So, onto the meat and bones of the question… Is it worth buying night vision for Airsoft? And is night vision in Airsoft a good is thing overall? It’s a tough question, there are thousands of reasons why you’d come to one of many outcomes and it’s always going t be a hotly contested topic.
So, I’ll answer the first part as best I can… If your able to buy a functional Gen 3 unit and will get what you consider “Fair usage” out of it, then yeah… go ahead. You’ll soon discover there is a hidden world out there once the sun goes down… Most established teams who attend 24/36 hour games will have a member or two… often a whole team equipped with Gen 3 night vision. Movies rarely get it 100% right, from the glowing lens in 12 Strong to the close but still showing a RED eotech reticule of 13 Hours, Hollywood seems to want to make night vision appear more screen friendly than it is. SEAL Team gets it pretty bang on, As does Act of valour.
When I say buy Gen 3 if you can afford it, I’m not doing so purely because of snobbism or the “Crye or die” mentality that’s become commonplace within Airsoft. I say it because if you buy Gen 1 or the majority of Gen 2 units, You’ll be drastically outclassed. An analogy I’ll use is fighter planes… The Dominican Republic were using P51 Mustangs as a front line fighter until 1984, Now don’t get me wrong… I’m weak at the knees for the Piston Engined Pony but in a dogfight the P51 would have not fared well against practically anything else in the air at that time. (Brownie points for naming the below film)
With night vision it’s nothing short of a wallet punishing arms race. Gen 1 and Gen 2 units will make you the one eyed king in the land of the blind, But in the land of Gen 3 it’ll leave you wandering around, afraid to move for the threat of a shot coming out of the dark.
Dual tubes or Monocle? Well, Buy the best unit within your budget… dual tubes will help with depth of field and lower eye strain, but at the price of… well, Over double the cost. Also spacial awareness and especially when it comes to moving in the shadows a dual tube set up can leave you in a lighted area without any clue your actually standing in plain view… With a single tube you have the ability to keep your other eye adjusted to the dark.
Essential to the use of night vision is the mounts and headgear you’ll employ to use it. Some opt for weapon or hand held, But the most popular by far is head mounted, Either by way of an independent “skull crusher” rig, A helmet or rarely via a Crye Nightcap.
I’ll not go into details, but mounting systems are vital… I’d recommend going for something genuine and boring as opposed to Gucci looking and fake. I opted for a norotos enhanced rhino and j-arm, it’s not perfect but it’s bloody strong and doesn’t rattle around.
Protecting your unit (Giggidy)…
For storage, You really can’t do better than a Pelicase… A 1200 would be fine for most units, I can fit mine into an 1120. The batteries are always removed prior to storage, and any moisture from the elements is thoroughly removed.
A desiccant gel sachet is advisable, most furniture stores will have shit loads as leather suites will come with around 20/30 large sachets, we used to literally throw them away by the bin load. They last forever as well, place a few bags in the warming tray of an oven for an hour and they’ll be as good as new.
In the field, a correctly sized butler creek flip up cover with a Tactical optician lexan convex disk on the objective lens is what I’d recommend. I also use a “LIF” or Light Interference Filter to help prevent damage caused by incoming lasers. I’ve not opted to use an ocular protector at present but I’m considering a tinted sacrificial lens to reduce eye strain.
A key element on using night vision in game is the subject of aiming… There are two main ways of doing this, through NV compatible sights such as the Eotech 552 or… More commonly with the aid of IR lasers and illumination. The trade off for the ability to see at night is that your unable to focus on things less than 2/3 feet away… Some units are better than others, and dual tubes have an ability to focus each side independently but for the most part your iron sights and red dots will be blurry.
If using an optic, you’ll need to ensure it’s got an NVG setting, This isn’t the green setting you find in shitty Eotech clones, it’s an almost invisible low brightness setting that generally you’ll only find in military grade optics (Holosun are about the cheapest NVG compatible option if your on a budget).
Most opt to aim via an IR laser, A point of concern for many is that IR lasers do not trigger the blink reflex that tells your brain that your eye needs to close or risk damage. I’ll say this as clearly as possible, you should be very fucking careful in the employment of lasers, IR or otherwise. “Near” IR is what you’ll find on a lot of Airsoft lasers, It works well enough but often a little work needs to be done to ensure the laser is zeroed in and stable. Element make a half decent LA-5 (PEQ15 derivative) and G&P make an excellent Steiner DBAL (The laser in this in particular is extremely bright, comparable to that of a genuine PEQ15).
Onto classification, if your ever looking for night vision you’ll hear the term “OMNI” banded around, its oft misused and sometimes incorrectly described. I’m not the best person to walk you through the differences in what different OMNIs mean but in general, the higher an OMNI, the later the date of manufacture… Often with incremental updates and improvements, However… There are exceptions to the rule and certain batches will be better/worse than others.
Auto-gating in layman’s terms give the tube a degree of protection, it will temporarily dim or shut off a unit when a bright light is shone into the lens, A lot of non NVG users will think that by blasting a 200 lumen light at a NOD user they’ll blind them, however that’s often not the case… NODs are designed to put up with muzzle flash and the lights of a war zone, Your little element light isn’t really going to trouble it. There are ways to defeat night vision, but for that you’ll have to do your own research 😉.
Gain: the ability to increase or decrease the units sensitivity to light, Often at the cost of image quality, noise and battery life. On a moonless night in the wilderness, such as one I found myself in earlier this year, we had to resort to IR illumination whilst exfilling from an objective, the lack of ambient light was such that even Omni 6 Gen 3 units were next to no good. Night vision works by gathering light and multiplying it, No light = No Night Vision.
As for the bigger question? Is night vision something the Airsoft community needs? Probably not. It does create a massive divide in the Haves and Have nots… I attended an evening game with a fellow NOD user where we roamed the field without fear of being shot and resorted on occasion to knife kills because simply shooting people was far too easy. Was it fun, Fuck yes… like playing splinter cell on easy mode. Was it fair? No. We should at the very least have been split up and been left to face each other as opposed to walking around as an army of 2.
Also, there’s a degree of reverse snobbism within the Airsoft community… Particularly with night vision. A big chip on the shoulder of people who say “You’ve got more money than sense” whilst driving their car that’s depreciation is annually in excess of the cost of most NODs, Whilst happily paying £800 per year to watch a half dozen football games on Sky or £5 on a Starbucks twice a week… You see where I’m going with this? We all make choices, we all have our own budget. Just because someone dropped £4K on a very specific item doesn’t make them mental, well… maybe it does, But respect that they’re probably making a conscious sacrifice elsewhere. That snobbism soon fades once you let people have a good look through the tubes, All of a sudden they’re doing the maths themselves.
Airsoft games would be a great deal more of a level playing field without night vision, however they wouldn’t be as much fun. There’s few thing in airsoft as a silent patrol onto a target, picking out your individual targets with IR and unleashing a hair of fire onto targets that had no idea you were there. Also, Tracers under night vision is about the coolest thing you’ll ever experience.
There is one final though I’ll leave you with… Owning elite gear doesn’t make you elite. Most people using night vision do so without Tactical thought, Money can buy you all the gear in the world but a tactical mindset and the backing of a good team will put you ahead of the “All the gear, No idea” crowd. Just be mindful of the lucky few who own NVGs and know how to move and shoot in the dark, those lucky few are truly pivotal.