You know when you buy something, take it out of the packaging, give it that initial inspection, and there’s just not a single thing to be disappointed with? Dye’s I4 paintball mask is one of those products.
From the moment you take it out of the (very nice) box, the I4’s quality is apparent. The mask looks beautiful, especially in my own mask’s “Skinned Lime” colorway, and every component feels strong and well made. The seams are all tight, with no excess glue around the foam or any of the other annoying oversights typical of cheaper masks. The materials themselves all feel great as well. The mask is hard where it needs to be, around the lens frame and nose, and soft everywhere else. Every part of the mask feels durable, and after a full summer of paintball, it shows no signs of wear. The mask’s lower half is not as soft as, say, a VForce Grill, but it does flex pretty easily.
The soft materials inside and around the ears help make the I4 the most comfortable mask I’ve ever worn. The flexibility of the ear pieces allows the mask to fit much tighter to one’s head than most masks, meaning less time adjusting and zero movement while playing. Having never used a mask with soft ears, I was a little concerned about what getting hit there would feel like. Thankfully my fears were unfounded. I’ve now taken a couple hits on or near the ears and barely even felt them.
Of course, it doesn’t matter how great a mask is if its lens system doesn’t keep up. Dye’s I4 system, though, might be the best I’ve used. The lenses are incredibly clear, with no distortion around the edges. The field of view is enormous, although the nose piece might sit a bit high for some people’s tastes. Most importantly, the mask has never fogged, even playing in 95 degrees and 80 percent humidity. I’ve used the same lens that came with the mask all summer long, and the only real wear it shows is a small scratch I think it picked up in my gear bag.
Some online seem to have issues with the I4’s lens removal system, but I can’t say I’ve had any problems. To remove the lens, you press in a tab on the strap lock and push it forward to free the lens for removal. I could see how someone with particularly large hands might have trouble with the tabs, but I suspect complaints more likely come from people who don’t actually know how to remove the lens properly. Dye provides a good instruction booklet, but those who buy the mask used or just don’t want to read the manual might run into issues as it’s not immediately obvious how the system works. It’s perhaps not as easy to use as VForce’s Quick Change system, but patent law forces other companies to find their own solutions, and I think Dye put together a good one. One thing Dye’s system definitely has over others is that there are no loose pieces to keep track of when changing the lens.
So what’s the I4 like to play with? Between the excellent lens clarity, the wide viewing angle, and the snug, comfortable fit, I almost immediately forget I’m wearing a mask. Once the strap is adjusted to your head, Dye’s Tiger Teeth strap retainer holds tightly in place. The mask’s incredibly low weight probably helps with this too.
One of Dye’s focuses when designing this mask was communication, and it shows. It’s easy to hear and be heard even in the middle of a firefight; there’s no “echo-ey” sensation as with some masks.
When taking fire, the I4 produces a surprising number of bounces. As mentioned before, the I4 is not the softest mask around, yet I often would feel a hit and check for paint only to find none. I think the mask’s extremely tight profile has a lot to do with this. Unless a ball hits the lens or dead-center in the mouthpiece, most shots tend to make contact at an angle, allowing them to glance off rather than breaking.
Unfortunately, that same low profile also means limited protection. This mask is not a great fit for those with larger heads. Even on my own smaller head, it just covers my jawline, and it leaves any player’s neck and upper forehead completely exposed. Additionally, the close fit can make one’s breath feel a bit restricted if there isn’t much wind. Lastly, the small vents along the jawline and slots above the lens can be hard to clean. Apart from one’s head size, none of these are significant problems, but they are things to be aware of.
For those with small-to-average size heads, Dye’s I4 mask might be the best out there. Its lens system is outstanding; the fit and comfort are unmatched; its low profile gives one a legitimate competitive advantage; and Dye’s commitment to quality means the mask will last for a very long time. If your head is larger or you want more protection, something like Dye’s I5 or VForce’s Grill might be a bitter option. But for everyone else, the I4 absolutely deserves your consideration.
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