So, the following article is as a result of many conversations I’ve had with a couple of the guys from Diablo. After joining them at many games throughout the years, I’ve noticed a distinct difference in how they set up their gear, certainly they aim towards the more functional approach, every item chosen on its merits and based solely upon the needs of Airsoft, not merely adopted because a real world unit they admire happens to use it.
I’m hopefully not going to be telling anyone something they don’t already know when I say there is a marked difference between Airsoft and real life, our hits don’t kill and it takes a different skill set and kit list to accomplish an Airsoft win than it does to survive a real shootout. Whilst there’s always a case for following what the real life cool guys use, does a plate carrier provide its wearer benefits that outweigh its obvious downsides? Well, that’s a complex question and one that has an often biased answer.
Diablo has been playing the game for a long long time, there are certainly teams that have been around longer but Diablo have spent a massive amount of time perfecting their craft. Time spent at the (now unfortunately closed) Mall in Reading and virtually every opportunity they get to play at sites like Longmoor or Copehill Down FIBUA villages, are taken as opportunities to further push their craft.
So given that we’re in the era of impressions and a growing push in the direction of more is more, let’s discuss the other way… Without any further input from me, let’s hear from the guys themselves. I don’t generally think that group chats work all that well, so I asked one of their members, Max to be the spokesperson for the team and explain their methodology. After consulting with the rest of the Diablo guys, this is what they had to say.
You asked us to write about how we decide to add or remove things from a loadout, but I think the honest answer is that we actually pressure each other not to focus too much on gear unless there’s a specific requirement we’re lacking or something we’re carrying but really don’t need. We aim to focus more on our teamwork, set pieces, skills etc than our gear… However, there’s always been a tendency to finish a game and immediately start nattering about a pouch placement or something like that. But if you want to be fast, you’ve got to draw from the same places all the time, so moving your gear around and swapping things isn’t actually the route to being the best you can be.
You’ll have more fun in the game if you perform better, and you’ll perform better if you focus on the skill side of things rather than the gear side of things. So sorry for ignoring your request for an article solely about gear choice, instead I’ve decided to approach this complex question by talking about the trend we’re moving in and the logic justifying it.
The team essentially plays only 2 styles of events; Really up close, walk-on CQB (the tighter the better) and “milsim” weekenders at FIBUA sites. We’ll also try to get to any night games available as we love NOD work, so we can’t be too picky.
I think you’ve got to break these games apart as seperate disciplines, to borrow a current day gaming analogy… CQB is your 10v10 domination in Call of Duty; sweaty, competitive, intense and all about speed and skill. Whereas milsim is your warzone/battle royal, where its far more about thinking, tactics, movement, cross-callsign teamwork.
This has an influence on the the way we think about things and having been around for 15+ years now as a team (with almost completely the same team members the whole way through), we’ve tried a lot, got a lot of stuff wrong, and have really dialled in our gear. It’s important to remember that and put it in context when reading this!
Obviously some of the team still pick and choose different bits depending on preference and context (CQB vs Greenside… 30 minute games vs 24h+ events), but this article is really about the general trend we’re moving in. We all agree with the direction we’re taking, but we have differing opinions about how to implement it and how much we’re willing to give up in pursuit of it.
We’re all rocking crye cut tiger stripe BDUs in woodland tiger and desert tiger for fitting into different camo requirements of a particular game, whilst remaining a little different from the sea of Multicam and US Woodland. You could say the stripes are our ‘brand’.
If I move onto belt kit first, the surprise to some people might be that we’re actually trending towards using no belt kit at all. As I mentioned, some of us still use it occasionally but I’ve personally not used belt kit in 5 years.
A lot of people will say that they themselves are high speed, but they’ve got tons of gear on and have pretty average fitness! People in general choose to wear belt kit because they want to carry a pistol, mags, bangs and a dump pouch, but we generally don’t and I’ll talk through these decisions below.
The overall downside of belt kit is that it puts a lot of weight and bulk on your hips that is very noticable in a 24h event, its also yet another thing to throw on and off if you’re caught short and ultimately it affects your ability to move fast in a CQB or FIBUA environment. This is mostly due to snagging whilst moving through tight places such as through windows and breach holes, or climbing over walls.
With regards to belt kit, if you’re not wearing it then you probably aren’t using a pistol… Sacrilege! The fact we’re not using pistols often gets us some strange looks, until people discuss with us why we don’t. You’ve actually aluded to us doing this in one of your previous articles! (Sidearms: An Argument For And Against).
Pistols are often carried in the real world as a backup in case the primary goes down, and depending on who you talk to, potentially as something to transition to if you run dry in a gunfight and want to keep engaging the target. We spend a lot of time thinking about our tactics and SOPs, working on consistency within our team and even amongst other teams we know within the CTF226 family. (CTF226 being a combined allegiance between the guys of Diablo, Cobalt, TF Copperhead, Gray Fox and Black Scorpions NLD).
Our philosophy is to take the real deal tactics and then run them stripped back so that some of the slower elements that are there purely for safety are removed, as the consequence of us doing things wrong is far less that it would be if we were in a real life combat situation.
If one of our primaries goes down, which is exceedingly rare when you think about how many tens of thousands of rounds an airsoft gun would do before failure and compare that to a real m4 that needs a new barrel after 20k rounds, we’d just go to the safezone and pick up a spare gun. There is no negative consequence and to be honest it just doesn’t happens as we use good quality stuff, so this is mostly theoretical.
Airsoft pistols can be seen to behave somewhat like real pistols in terms of range, utility, ease to control etc… I challenge people to quick draw their pistol, aquire sight picture, and pump 5 rounds into a plate at 15 meters as fast as the gun will cycle whilst someone else goes head to head with them… The majority simply just can’t, it requires more practice than most people have the opportunity to actually dedicate time to. Whereas airsoft “rifles” behave nothing like real rifles, and therein lies their biggest asset.
So, when my primary runs dry, I’m far better served by reloading it quickly so that I can continue to be 100% effective to the rest of my team. By effective, I mean with a totally flat shooting “rifle” with effectively no adverse recoil with the ability to hammer in an obsene amount of rounds from a 100+ round midcap magazine and a zeroed optic with to the option to use a laser or light if I’m working at night.
This in my opinion makes much more sense than drawing a pistol (which is something that takes me longer than reloading my m4) and then being only 25% as effective as I am with my primary, with a much smaller magazine capacity, lower accuracy, more recoil, slower rate of fire. And then there’s the relative unreliability of gas powered pistol replicas compared to electric “rifle” ones.
There has only been one point in game over the last few years that I’ve missed having a pistol and the team still brings this up today! I asked to borrow one so I could shoot someone through a staircase by leaning off the top of it upside down, that’s it! In summary when thinking about how to be most effective, pistols simply don’t have a place for me in airsoft.
To make my point clear, I’m saying that even in a sub 10 meter engagement, I’d still rather reload my m4 than draw a pistol, as its not just about the current threat but about the next few that will immediately pop up after. Forcing yourself to use just a primary weapon makes you better with it in terms of weapons manipulation. Key skills such as reloading, shooting and using it in really tight environments will improve if you’re not reliant on the option of switching to a pistol, and that focus on a single weapon makes you better overall at the game itself.
I think this is also the right time in the article to note we’re trending towards not using slings on our primaries. We do a lot of very tight stuff with our “rifles” as we’re not transitioning to pistols, slings (even single points) tend to get in the way of weapon manipulations as well as being a significant snag risk.
We’ve done lots of cross team training with guys we know and respect, but very quickly they realise that their sling setup is specifically the bit that doesn’t work after a few of our drills. In the real world, this would be a totally outrageous statement, as the reality is that real soldiers are required to have their rifles with them in a lot of situations that require them to have their rifle slung.
But it’s also key to remember that we’re not slinging our rifles to transition to pistols like they are, so again its simply not needed. A really well set up sling can be an asset, but most people rocking those gucci real steel slings fall down the second angles get really tight.
In terms of dump pouches on the belt, like pistols we tend not to run them at all. If I’m under real stress, my empty mags are dropped on the ground. Under more normal reloading circumstances, I’ll drop a magazine into my crye cargo pocket and then cycle it back into my vest as part of my mag admin as soon as possible.
I always draw from the same position on the left hand side of my plate carrier and then cycle my magazines across, with empties going into the least accessable spots upside down (so i can feel instantly which are empty whilst shuffling mags to the left). I don’t use the technique where the front right mag is flipped for a left handed reload, I’ll always reload from the front left magazine so that I keep that consistency no matter what.
Our vests are more varied: Spiritus, Ferro, Crye… we use the lighter and slimmer low-profile vests. They’re all very similar so no one vest is winning out, I will say that a few of us have made a move in the last 2 years to chest-rigs only (using the Spiritus Micro) and its starting to catch on within the team.
In airsoft, no one needs to wear ballistic plates in their vests, so everyone’s vest becomes essentially a chest rig, but heavier and more bulky. It makes sense to just take that line of reasoning to its logical conclusion and wear the lightest and slimmest carrier possible.
As a team, we’ve long left the 2010 wannabe/geardo/impression days behind. But we do appreciate that a big part of the airsoft scene, is about the look. We’re not criticisng anyone who wants to wear a plate for looks or protection, as it really does hurt being shot up close! However, chest rigs are lighter, less bulky, keeps us cooler and can still carry everything needed for the majority of games we play.
The only downside is that being shot in CQB at sub 2 meters is far more noticable! Thats where you might want to consider running something like a Ferro Slickster, MBAV or PACA soft armour underneath your chest rig. With this, you’ll keep the consistency of mag placement on your gear, drawing from the same spot every time, but have the ability to have a little more protection and warmth should you want it.
Within Diablo, we’re all using pretty similar configurations; 3/4 mags on the front of our rig with a trend towards 4 flat on the front (for example the kangeroo pouch on a Spiritus takes 4, as does the Mayflower quad placard). I’d personally advise against the kydex “taco” style mag retention options and look more for a one-piece solution like S&S Precision or GMR. I then have a M4 double pouch on my weakside for a little extra capacity up front, without compromising my ability to get flat. I keep my strong side of the rig reserved for bangs. We’re also also using danglers for misc admin on weekenders, such as maps and a few of us will use hand warmers… Quite simply because they rock!
We used to run tons of bangs when the police impacts first became available, but we find we’re using less and less these days. I carry a timed bang now and rarely use it but other guys in the team still carry as many as 5. Its all down to personal preference and site/mission requirements. I can choose to add as many as 4 police style impact grenades to my loadout if the site is right for it.
As to why we don’t rely on bangs, perhaps because as they’ve became so prolific sites have started to make them harder to use, with ever more restrictions on where and how they are to be used in game (its also one less thing to pick up when the team is moving through a building).
The other key reason is that in the last 5 years we’ve focussed a massive amount of our energy on skills and tactics as opposed to simply gear, so we’ve each got far better at rifle work and not needing to use bangs in the first place! Pieing out the door Israeli style is the new school Diablo, whereas throwing in a ton of bangs and rushing the corners in a set piece is the predictable (and easily countered) old school we’ve moved away from… If you’ve ever heard the GMR phrase ‘murder by numbers’, you’ll appreciate that this is what they’re preaching.
We tend to keep the rear plate totally free in CQB, as anything on there would be pointless. For weekenders I’ll take a low profile ruck and a few of us have the 15L Princess Ryggsack from Snigel Design in Sweden that we picked up on some night games over there. It’s a low profile, form fitting and small ruck and perfect for our needs. A lot of people think on weekenders that you need these massive 3 day packs, but the reality is its only airsoft so you can usually dump everything straight at your accom or FOB from the car.
The backpack we’ll take out with us on the ground is literally just water, snacks and waterproofs (if required). Even at Stirling Airsoft’s Trees games (which is probably at the most extreme end of all the games available in the UK), this is still all that’s required.
Lastly, our helmets are the modern types you’d expect from MTEK‘s, Ops-Core’s and Crye lids. Nothing particularly remarkable here as they all perform pretty similarly, although I’d not want to go back to life before having a system like an opscore dial. If you’re not using something like this, you’re missing out! Helmet systems become very important when you’re mounting things to them like NODs.
In a slightly more unusual turn we’ve moved away from over ear hearing protection/comms such as Peltors or Sordins. We all used to run the bulky stuff and some still have it, but you lose a lot of your natural hearing which for situational awareness is incredibly valuable, especially for the sneakier side of things. For the weekenders we attend, as well as the outdoor stuff, hearing protection is less of an issue. As mentioned, most walk-on CQB sites have made bangs so hard to use that its not really a factor, but we all still have earpro (be it over ear or in ear) for when we need it.
If you’ve ever been pushing into rooms under contact in the pitch black such as a basement, wearing NODs and looking around with only the IR light source on your rifle, all whilst wearing your over ear comms, helmet, armour.. You’ll know that your entire world is just 2 toilet paper tubes of vision (or one!), with no other sensory input at all and this is a very peculiar sensation indeed!
We’re making the move to helmet mounted face protection, with the armour from Ops-Core’s Fast SF line being the primary choice, personally I currently use the Ops-Core Fast Gunsight Mandible. Airsoft has had a strong trend in the last 5 years or so with players using mesh type face protection that it hadn’t before, with it even turning up in the photographs from the real steel world. The main consideration though, is that we’ve all got day jobs where we can’t turn up pockmarked.
The traditional mesh might offer protection, but it’s another thing to put on and is often uncomfortable for longer periods (especially when worn with eye pro, ear pro and a helmet laden with NODs. The helmet mounted stuff is ideal, simple and has only really recently become available so its still pretty novel. The added profile of such protection has made us preference higher optic mounts such as Geissele’s Super Precision mounts on our rifles, this also has the side effect of less fatigue and easier target aquisition (especially when shooting passive at night).
So that about covers our load outs, but weapon setups, night vision setups and the actual tactics used require their own individual in-depth articles! Diablo.
So there you have it, an alternative view to how best to streamline your gear but one that’s definitely worth considering if you’re more interested in performance than photos for the ‘gram.
Diablo (and CTF226 as a whole) have a massive amount of experience within the team. Each and every time I attend an event with them, I come away with a little more knowledge and some pretty cool stories to tell around the campfire. Stay tuned, there’s plenty more to talk about and we’ve not even really started with the cool stuff like night shooting, navigation with NODs and small unit tactics!