Going Off Half-Cocked
Getting into a new hobby is pretty exciting, but you shouldn’t let your excitement lead you astray when deciding how to spend your money on the equipment you’ll need. As a paintball newbie, you’ll soon grow tired of the rental markers most paintball venues provide. The itch to buy your own shiny new marker will get worse and worse, until you finally decide it’s time to shell out some cash for the real deal.
So now you have some sweaty bills in your paw and have to buy the first thing you see. Wait! Before you shell out on the shiniest-looking ball-flinger, stop to consider some important, er, considerations. It could save you some money and effort down the road.
What Kind of Marker is Right for You?
In another article, I explain how paintball markers work in detail. However, if you don’t have the time to read the whole thing, here’s the minimum you need to know.
The most popular type of paintball marker is powered by CO2 gas and is purely mechanical. Most rental markers work this way and rely on a gravity-fed hopper. These are the most affordable and are in general pretty good overall.
Electronic markers combine electronics and mechanical components into a death-dealing combination that’s a clear step up over purely mechanical markers. The electronically controlled firing mechanism increases precision and firing rate control, and reduces problems like jamming. Traditionally, these markers were way more expensive than the basic mechanical models, but the tech is getting cheaper by the day.
Finally, we have basic, single-shot pump action markers. Unless you want to play classic paintball, which is its own thing, you can safely ignore pump-action markers.
Choices of Gas
CO2 (carbon dioxide, in case science class was a long time ago) is most associated with paintball because most people and venues use it. There isn’t much mystery to why this is. CO2 is incredibly cheap, which means it makes paintball much more affordable. If you buy into the CO2 side of the gas debate, you’ll be playing for pennies.
CO2 has its problems, though. The main one is that CO2 chills itself when phase changing from liquid to gas. This is why a paintball marker gets so cold after sustained firing. If you really give it horns it can actually freeze the paintball, which, believe it or not, is a bad thing in terms of firing velocity. CO2 tanks also have to be nearly empty before you can fill them again. This means you may have to go into a match carrying a spare tank.
As an answer to the drawbacks of CO2, we started seeing nitrogen tanks, also known as “high-pressure air”. These days it’s not pure nitrogen anymore, but people still call it “nitro” because it sounds cool.
With HPA you can go crazy. It’s stable, so any problems with accuracy is all you. The downside is that HPA tanks are bigger, cost more money, and most paintball venues can’t fill them for you. Leave this one to the pros or until you hit the limits of what you can do with CO2.
Barrels of Fun
When you buy your marker, you’ll have to choose what sort of barrel you would like. The barrel is the bit the paintball flies down towards your target, so getting the right one is important.
The bore size of the barrel only matters in terms of the paintball diameters. Standard paintballs have a caliber of 0.68. Whatever caliber you use, make sure that the barrel matches it. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a potentially ruined marker at worst and a huge mess to clean up at best.
How long should the barrel be? Bigger isn’t better, boys. While longer barrels let the paintball hit max speed before leaving for your friend’s face, it also makes for a more unwieldy weapon. It’s up to you.
You may also have the option of buying a “ported” barrel. This means that small holes have been drilled in the barrel to strategically vent air or gas to improve accuracy or reduce noise.
You can also choose between different barrel materials. This affects not only the price, but also the weight, balance, and handling of your marker. Aluminum barrels are very affordable and very light, and thus quite popular. They do bend easily though, so don’t manhandle them. On the other side of the spectrum, stainless steel barrels are very tough, but relatively heavy. However, if you buy one now, you’ll probably never have to replace it.
Ceramic barrels are fragile, very light, and uniquely self-cleaning. This can be very important in a match where the stakes are high. These are priced accordingly, though.
Finally, if you think paintball escaped the carbon fiber craze, well, you’re wrong. These barrels are the best, but also stupidly expensive. Fast ball speed, strong and light – ask for these when you go pro and get a sponsor onboard.
The Hard Questions
Those are the most pressing issues when buying a marker, but you should also think about a few other things. First of all, establish a budget. Don’t go in without having an idea of what your spend limit is. There’s no point looking at markers you can’t afford. Secondly, don’t be fooled by fancy stickers and slick looks. A cool-looking marker won’t win any matches, unless you blind opponents with the shiny bits.
The type of games you want to play also factors in. Check out my article on paintball game types for more info. For example, games in confined spaces work well with shorter barrels. Games that need lots of velocity need longer barrels.
That’s the least you need to know before buying your own marker. Before you go shopping though, head over to my Top 10 Paintball Marker page for some great models to get you started.