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The great sport of paintballing is America’s gift to the world, and it has never been more popular. People take part at all levels, from casual weekenders and work colleagues on company team-building trips to local amateur divisions and military training all the way to professionals. If you’re serious about paintballing - and why wouldn’t you be? - you need to get serious about your gear.
As with any sport that needs a lot of equipment, you should get the best you can afford, including the ancillary gear like masks, goggles, clothing and kneepads. Ultimately, the most important piece is the paintball marker - the gun - and its essential component, the paintball loader.
Like the magazines of an automatic rifle and the chamber of a handgun, the paintball loader - or hopper - feeds ammunition to the gun. The loader attaches to the gun, usually on top, and keeps players supplied with the paintballs they need to combat the opposition. Its performance can make the difference between victory and defeat.
A key consideration is the loader’s feed rate, the speed at which the loader can feed the balls into the firing chamber. It’s measured in balls per second (bps), and in the sport’s early days, the speeds of different models could vary from 4bps to 40bps. Speed was everything. That imperative risked undermining the game by enabling players simply to spray their opponents as if they were using a medieval blunderbuss. In recent years, a more sensible attitude has reasserted itself; speed was never a substitute for precision and accuracy, and now the standard rate for tournaments is a more reasonable 10.5bps.
You have a choice of three basic types of loading mechanisms, although new innovations are arriving all the time, most of which are variations on tech solutions.
The first main type is the gravity-fed loader, such as the Proto Primo, which simply uses gravity to draw the ball into the chamber. You’ll find these commonly in use by rental setups. Their low feed rate means that it’s not uncommon for balls to jam inside the loader. Clearing the jam isn’t hard but robs you of valuable time. These models are for use with mechanical markers because electronic ones have a higher firing rate that gravity-fed loaders struggle to keep up with.
There are also agitated feeds, which use battery-powered motors to send the balls into the breach. They’re often fitted with sensors that will trigger paddles to agitate the balls and enable faster feeding. Cheaper electronic markers tend to feature this feed method. They are undoubtedly effective but tend to drain the batteries quickly.
There is also the force-fed mechanism that you’ll generally find in the more expensive loaders. Like agitated feeds, the force-fed design uses sensors. In this case, they don’t just stir up the paintballs - they force them into the breach, thereby improving the speed and consistency of the marker’s feed rate. This is a more modern solution and it benefits from easier maintenance and cleaning than older designs.
There are also variants on the sensor concept. For example, sound-activated loaders such as the Empire Halo Too respond to the sound of the marker firing by feeding another paintball into the chamber. An eye-activated loader will be able to tell when the tube is getting empty and its motor will kick in to fill it up. Another option is a cyclone-activated hopper powered by gas rather than batteries.
As you can see, the choice is wide. Selecting the right loader for your marker means considering a number of factors. The most important thing of all is making sure it fits. Not all markers and loaders are compatible. Capacity is a factor; if you’re looking for real firepower, you’ll need one that accommodates at least 100p paintballs and ideally 200. Size and weight are practical issues as you need to be able to carry your marker easily and maneuver it quickly. It’s going to be with you in all kinds of conditions, running across open terrain and squatting in undergrowth. You need to be comfortable with the feel of your marker, and the loader you choose is a big part of this. It’s worth thinking about the weather, too. If you’re likely to be out in sun and rain, you need a loader that can stand up to a beating from both.
Paintballing is great as a sport or even as a pastime. Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned pro, you can make sure you get the best experience by choosing the equipment that’s right for your needs.
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