Night Vision: Diablo’s Guide For Goons

Night vision is something that regularly pops up in my instagram Q&As, but despite owning my own set of NODs, I’m still what I’d consider to be rather uneducated about the whole deal. Don’t get me wrong, I know what my personal NOD set up can do… I know it’s limitations and I know how to effectively use it, but to hand out advice to someone looking to invest their money in the Night Vision game? I wouldn’t know where to start.

I personally got incredibly lucky when I bought mine, a close (and local) friend was selling his and I’d had first hand experience with the unit in question before I spent my hard earned cash, by looking through the unit and knowing exactly what I was getting for the money.

For a while now (about a year or so) I’ve been pestering Diablo’s Max to get the collective thoughts from his guys and assist with a write up around Night Vision in general, something that expands massively upon an earlier article I’d written and provide a few answers to questions that a newcomer to the “green eyes” world might have.

We actually ended up talking about speed CQB and gear methodology, which evolved into an article in it’s own right, but with the night vision questions still coming through, what better time to look at this incredibly complex, game changing element of Airsoft.

Drakelow, probably the only opportunity you have to use night vision during the day within the whole of the UK…

Before I let Max continue, I’ll point out that the knowledge he’s built up over the years is quite niche. Airsoft gives you the ability to really drill down on one key area that even the majority of the military just doesn’t have the time or budget to recreate… Force on force shooting with night vision.

I’m not trying to belittle anyone’s experience in the military or make Airsofters out to look like hardcore death dealers, far from it. So before anyone thinks that I’m saying that Airsofters would come out on top against DEVGRU, think again, because that’s just absurd.

The whole concept of real and Airsoft “combat” should be considered as very separate disciplines, there’s certain elements that are similar on the surface, but there’s a lot of stuff that simply won’t translate across from real to airsoft and vice-versa.

Airsoft is more akin to a game of Nerf, Paintball (stop crying… It is) or to use one unconventional metaphor, Snooker. Whilst airsoft is all about the angles and sneaking the cue ball around the pink to nail a cheeky brown, real combat allows you to swap the cue for a shotgun, use a breaching charge to make the pockets bigger and vaporise the brown with a Hellfire.

So looking at night vision from the perspective of a team that’s been using it for a pretty long time, what advice would they have for someone whose looking to enter the land of NOD?

Night Vision: An Unorthodox Approach

“These blaster marks, too accurate for speedsofters”

I’ll assume that you’ve read the really great older ATRG article (Night Vision: A Case For And Against) on whether you should buy night vision and you’ve decided that you’re interested in this aspect of the game… Or that you’re just bored in lockdown and fancy a read… Much like me suggesting there’s no practical purpose for pistols in airsoft… Or more accurately that pro’s vs con’s of using a rifle vs pistol come out in favour of rifles, I’m sure my thoughts on night vision will also challenge a few people to rethink how they do things or possibly modify their spending priorities.

Our team is potentially giving up an edge on our competitive advantage at night milsims by writing this, as the outcome might be that people realise night games are far more accessible from a price perspective and start challenging us on a more regular basis… Instead of letting us play whack-a-mole in the dark! Unlike my previous article, this is not CQB / urban focused and definitely encompasses greenside ops.

This is all from a ‘force on force’ perspective i.e. Airsoft. A lot of what I’m going to say and the nuances might be somewhat lost on the American civilian range shooting community as well as your more “patrol orientated” military. Very few people in the military are actively training with night vision, against an OPFOR with the same level of night vision, whilst shooting simunition (or other force on force projectile systems). And those people, limited in numbers as they are, won’t ever be talking on FaceBook or an Airsoft forum about it!

US Military doctrine has apparently only recently adapted to the idea that people can see their IR lasers with cheap cameras and so they’ve got to act differently, whereas the guys who’ve messed around with night vision in airsoft from when they first turned up (for us, it was around 2010) didn’t even put lasers on in the first place, for the simple reason that there was possibly one guy on the other team with night vision who’d spot us using it!!!

Before I get into it… Tracers are actually the biggest game changer in night games and people should buy these before anything else… The ability to see your shots, to walk them into targets or see them streaming through gaps or pinging off of objects will do wonders for your ability to hit targets. When being hit by a tracer, or suppressed by one’s fire, its also incredibly valuable as people know their being hit and cant ‘forget’ to feel something at night. What you give up in concealment when you fire, you gain in ability to actually hit people out. I’d only turn mine off when I’m doing greenside super sneaky work.

Mono (Single tube) vs Goggle (Duals)… The thing people will probably be thinking the most about when they’re starting out and often jealous of (in the case of duals). And in my combative fashion, I’ll now state that mono’s are arguably better! Having owned and put time on both, I think this for a number of reasons.
Goggles get you cool points (and this is the most important thing), but if you move past that point, the most important reason you’d want goggles is that they reduce eye strain.

Matched tubes as well as proper alignment means you can wear them for longer in comparison to mono’s… I’ve never suffered from the downside of mono’s like headaches and fatigue, but friends of mine have and this is one of the core reason why the military issues goggles, as those guys wear them a lot longer than we do. We need to airsoft for ‘A Tasking’, which within a night game is likely 30mins to 2h long most of the time… rarely the whole night, whereas military guys wear these on patrol every night all night, so we’re just less likely to feel this downside to the degree where we want to spend twice as much.

There are also arguments on depth perception, speed of movement and a host of other things like this for goggles, but these can all be mitigated by actually practicing movement with your night vision a lot more often. I guess I’ve arrived at some strange logic where if you’ve very wealthy and don’t intend to play loads, goggles are actually the more practical purchase as they’re easier to use! (A head start of sorts, replacing experience). The fact is though, from a usability perspective its sort of like seeing the same image twice through cardboard toilet paper tubes.. You don’t feel like you’ve got any more FoV than you had before and some of those dips in the ground can still catch you out!

In an Airsoft context, in MY opinion the ONLY reason to have them is when doing CQB and firing on both shoulders (something most people don’t do…), goggles allow you to lean out from both shoulders whilst exposing the absolute minimum, whereas a mono you’d have to lean the eye out that has the mono on. Generally that is usually your non-dominant eye, therefore exposing more of your head.

This still isnt a big deal, as how often are you in contact at sub 5 meters, in CQB, snap shooting off of both shoulders and against people who can potentially see you? (i.e. they’re also wearing night vision) In general airsoft… never. You’ve got to be doing very specific games for this to matter, and you need to be utilizing paintball tournament style skills (arguably Speedsoft) to even be moving and firing in such a way that you’re not already over exposing yourself in these environments, and therefore you’re negating any benefit that goggles might have.

You wont read much about this trade off of benefits, as the parts of the military that don’t get issued goggles would never be doing the sort of training to run into this paradox! The question for us civilians who have an expensive hobby is if this is worth over double the cost of a mono.

The pro’s for mono’s are many… Increased situational awareness, better use in light and dark (ie running into lit rooms), knowing when you’re in light and dark (goggle users regularly step out of shadows into lit areas without realizing), reduced weight, reduced cost, better passive aiming (ie using your dot sight and not a laser… something that is crucial) and more!

The negative.. less cool points.. so a pretty serious negative.

A wild Garand Thumb in its natural habitat.

Next up I’ll deal with how good your night vision is. The simple premise is that as night vision gets better/more expensive, it requires less and less ambient light to give you a picture… but there must be some level of ambient light. Dense tree cover for example can actually cause your highest end Gen3 Omni 9 tubes to be uselss and you actually find your eyes are better without the night vision! If there’s no ambient light, you create some with an Infra Red torch… non-night vision users cant see it, so its like walking round with your normal eyes and a flash light on.

To be blunt, what night vision you have only matters if the opfor have night vision also. As ARTG previously said, “In the land of the blind.. the Gen 1 mono’d man is king!”.

It doesn’t matter what tube you’re using if you’re able to shine a cheap IR torch around… So… If you’re a local site skirmisher and that site puts on the occasional night game, you’d be fully in the right mindset to go out and buy some £500 night vision from Scotts Country and a £30 IR torch on ebay and run around destroying all those without.

Similarly, if a guy on the other team has night vision and you’re not playing competitively or you’re not at a milsim, then using active IR still isnt that bad… So, again, you can creep round with cheap night vision and shine that IR torch and even if the other team does have night vision… its probably one or two guys at most.. and you’ll just accept that they might be able to get a sense of where you are WHEN you shine it, but this is airsoft… There’s always the distinct chance they can’t range you, and then theres wind or other adverse weather and maybe their sights aren’t even zeroed.

Taking all this into account, there’s still the possibility that they can’t accurately describe where you are to their team. So everyone else still can’t see you and don’t know where you are, so you’ve retained a huge advantage. Plus, at your average local night game there will be so much white light from regular torches going on, that it will usually confuse the night vision users who don’t have any hours under their belts.

Basically, practice! Practice as often and for as long as you can. There’s no substitute for getting time under NODs, it’s a perishable skill and each time you use them, you’ll become that little bit more proficient with them.

So, there is another big aspect to running a mono tube set up… When I use night vision, I have to constantly look under my goggles or use my off eye when using a mono to see if a light is regular or IR… You just cant tell. Night games always have white light blaring all over the place so again night vision is only useful until a contact begins, then everyone (including night vision users) tend to switch to white light. This scenario I’m describing limits all types of night vision and is a big reason why they’re not as good as everyone thinks they are in airsoft.

If you are playing in games where lots of people have night vision, then we’re in potentially the only situation where perhaps Gen 1 or lower quality Gen 2 isn’t a good idea, as you can’t blast out IR (active light) to make up for their lack of effectiveness under limited light conditions such as indoors or with cloud/tree cover or little moonlight.

Now you are in a price war where you can literally pay to win… good luck!

A particularly dark night at The Trees, once off the track, the darkness was overwhelming… Even Gen 3 units were struggling.

I’d also note that very expensive high-end Gen 2 is actually very good and can beat Gen 3 on certain stats, but ultra low ambient light situations just isn’t one of them. You can get tiny increments and more advantage in such a game by buying progressively more expensive set ups… For example, A Gen 3 omni 7 tube in good condition will smoke a Gen 3 omni 5 (and older) in lower light as they really need active light to be really useful. So, if omni 5 is pretty common at the games you attend, you can buy newer/higher end stuff to spot them when they’ve got to use their IR torch to move through a building! Pay to win!

I’d note at this point that if you’re inside, or in a basement, or under a tree canopy you might find yourself needing to use IR (no matter the unit you own). All night vision needs some light source to intensify the light… So, a lot of these points are once again moot as everyone has to use light at some point of another, the key thing to remember is that the more effective your unit is at gathering the light, the less likely it is that you’ll need to go active IR.

A typical scene under NODs, a fair amount of detail but not a great depth of field… There are some major dips and hollows in this picture that you literally can’t see!

Next up, lasers! These are cool, they look amazing under night vision (especially when using tracers) and you’ll see it in all of our videos! How they look to the user is generally enough to justify their use! What you’re possibly not noticing is how we’re up against people without night vision who can’t see our lasers, the second we’re up against people with night vision, the lasers are off and we’re using dot sights on our rifles again. So in reality having really high-end stuff in airsoft doesn’t offer a real tactical advantage as everyone else has it, just progressively more cool points!

IR lasers are incredibly fun though, and you’ll be the fastest you’ve ever been by shooting with lasers… Better than you are in daylight! It makes returning to normal day gaming hard.

The real deal that people still don’t realise are thermal sights (or thermal mono’s on your head). These work in day / night, since heat isn’t affected by light.. and they literally pick out your targets across a map… it is beyond unfair. This is how you defeat night vision users.. by bypassing it with a cheap thermal sight! Its worth remembering that in military thinking, night vision is primarily for navigation, thermal is for target identification.

Trialling out the Leupold LTO Tracker 2 HD at the British Shooting Show earlier this year.

If they could engineer thermal to give the image quality of night vision and work as well at mapping out terrain, they would no longer use night vision… Hence why the super high end stuff is a fusion of both (which I used to own… but won’t write about as it’s so incredibly niche)!

If you buy a 500GBP thermal sight, you’ll be buggered in terms of moving around, as you’ll walk into everything! But on the plus side you’ll see where everyone else is and shoot them before they can ever see you!

My summary is that a cheap night vision, a cheap IR torch off of eBay and a cheap thermal sight will absolutely spank an opposition who are just using the highest end Gen 3 omni 8 quad tubes… But, i do have one final piece of advice that costs nothing…If you just sit still with no night vision or thermal at all and you’re within a bush or other concealment, the night vision users still won’t spot you!

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