While paintball markers may get all the attention, without any actual paintballs to shoot at your “friends” they’re all but useless. These soft little balls may not seem all that interesting, but there’s more to paintballs than you may think. In fact, if you pick the wrong ones it may end up negatively affecting your experience. So let’s take a moment to give these little balls the respect they deserve.
It’s What Inside That Counts
Regular paintballs are large gelatin capsules filled with polyethylene glycol – not to be confused with mono ethylene glycol, which is a key ingredient in antifreeze. In addition to this there are colorants as well. Everything a paintball is made of is non-toxic. The first generation of paintball markers were actually made of glass and full of oil paint. Obviously, these were not meant for use against human opponents. Modern paintballs are safe and you can even eat them. But you really shouldn’t, if for no other reason than the fact that polyethylene glycol is also a laxative!
The Right Caliber
The “caliber” of a paintball refers to its diameter. That is, how wide its widest point measures. Obviously, you can’t put a paintball into a marker with a barrel too small to admit it. While paintballs come in different calibers, the 0.68 (about 17.3mm) caliber is the standard.
Make sure you know what caliber ball your marker is designed for and use only that. If you get some paintballs from a friend during a match, check with them what caliber they are. If you get it wrong, the ball might burst inside the marker; that’s a whole mess you don’t want to deal with.
As you might imagine, paintballs are pretty fragile, so you really need to take care when it comes to handling and storing them. This is something that can be a real challenge out in the field. Heat and cold can deform or swell the paintball shell, which makes it unsuitable for firing. Likewise, if you drop a paintball on the ground dirt, water, and other contaminants can mess with its structure. So never use any paintball that has been exposed to heat, cold, or contaminants. You should keep your spare balls in a cooler box or bag at the field so that they don’t go through temperature fluctuations.
At home, store them in a dry, cool place. This obviously means that they shouldn’t be left in the sun or somewhere they could start freezing, like an outdoor shed or your garage.
When it comes to what’s inside paintballs, you’ll find that there’s a large variety of colors to choose from. There are even glow in the dark balls. Really, pick whatever color or special attribute you like, but don’t mess with balls that have been filled with something corrosive or harmful. Some jokers have taken to filling paintball shells with antifreeze and other nonsense. Don’t be a joker.
Just as with any other product, not all paintballs are made equal. If you buy really cheap paintballs, you run the risk of the capsule failing before leaving the marker and leaving you with a significant maintenance headache. The paintballs they sell to use with rental markers are usually the cheap stuff, but for your own marker you should stick with recommended balls or ones that you know are consistently well made.
Your paintball marker doesn’t really care all that much if it’s actually firing paintballs. Any round object of the right diameter will work. So there are some alternative ammo types out there as well. You can NEVER use these to play paintball against other people. These alternative ammo types are designed for self defense, and they can do some serious damage.
Pepper balls are the most common example. These balls are filled with what is essentially chili powder, but concentrated and weaponized. Anyone hit with these will suffer burning eyes and difficulty breathing. Of course, you don’t want to be too close or you’ll get caught in the cloud as well.
The other two types of ammo are both solid and don’t burst on impact. Nylon stinger balls are just what it says in the name. Fired at paintball velocities these cause severe pain wherever they hit on the body, but hopefully without causing permanent and serious injury. The most dangerous ammo is the breaker ball. It’s a glass ball that can crack a skull or rib – dangerous and potentially lethal.
You may see plenty of weird gimmicks when it comes to paintballs. Some makers may claim theirs fly better or hit harder. In the end, paintballs are generally cheap enough so that you can play around with them and find the ones you like. The truth is that for the most part they are pretty much the same, excluding the cheap junk that can mess up your marker’s internals. As long as you don’t put THOSE balls in your hopper, you should be good to go.