Jaron's Realm

Ask me the time, I'll tell you how to build a clock

Things I Wish I’d Known Then – Part 3

Posted by Eric on 17.12.09

Time to Get a Hopper

Nope, sorry, we’re still not to the point of talking paintball guns just yet.  You’ve got a good mask and your own gas source, but now you need to think about getting yourself a hopper.  While your HPA or CO2 tank powers the gun itself, a good hopper is essential to feed your ammo reliably.  After all, what’s the point of shooting blanks at people?  So, I’ll start with a few definitions then go into the basics of how modern loaders work.  After that I’ll cover a few things to look at when purchasing one.

Stupid Semantics

First, you may encounter a few terms that seem to be the same thing or that you don’t understand  the difference.  The terms “hopper” and “loader” are essentially the same.  Some up-tight people might beg to differ, and for them I offer the following.  A paintball hopper is technically just a case or shell to hold the paintballs.  That’s it, just a container that relies on gravity alone to feed the paintballs down the feedneck into the gun.  A loader is a shell with some type of machinery inside that helps feed the paintballs at a faster rate.  That’s the difference and the vast majority of hoppers sold today are motorized so it’s not that important to differentiate between them.  Personally I still use the term “hopper” more, but I sometimes switch back and forth.

Second, like hopper vs. loader, some people also discriminate between an agitated loader and a force-fed one.  Again the difference is pretty small.  As paintball guns started firing smoother and at a faster rate, regular gravity hoppers couldn’t keep up with them.  Since the recoil was less, the hopper didn’t get jostled so the paintballs could sometimes gather over the feedneck but wouldn’t fall in.  So the first agitated hoppers had a small paddle inside the hopper by the feedneck that would lightly bounce the balls around, ensuring a consistent flow into the feedneck.  While the feed rate increased slightly to around 10 – 12 balls per second ( bps, ) the bigger benefit was a constant flow without stalls or jams.  A force-fed hopper takes this principle to the next level by having a paddle or drive that doesn’t just agitate the paintballs, it actively directs them into the feedneck.  So instead of relying on gravity, it keeps a constant pressure on the balls in the feedneck, called the stack, providing a much higher feed rate.  Most hoppers on the market now are force-fed.

So what kind of hopper will work for you?  As usual, there’s not a straight answer.  It depends on your play style and budget.  What kind of ammo capacity do you want?  Do you need a low-profile hopper, or are you ok with one a little taller?  You definitely want one that’s durable and easy to maintain.  But even with this in mind, there’s a few things a beginning player won’t need to bother with.

Tippmann Cyclone

Let me take a brief break here to talk about the Cyclone.  This is a system that the Tippmann A-5, X7, and Phenom paintball guns use in place of a normal hopper.  It’s basically a hopper on top of a paddle wheel that’s hooked to a pneumatic piston.  When the gun fires, some of the gas is diverted to the piston which turns the paddles and loads another paintball.  The whole thing is integrated into the paintball gun so that it can’t use a standard loader without a lot of modification.  It may be putting the cart ahead of the horse since I haven’t talked about guns yet, but if you’re looking at one of these paintball guns, the hopper comes with it so everything below won’t apply to you.

Don’t Worry About Speed Just Yet

One thing you don’t need to worry about is the feed rate.  Before all the paintball veterans jump on here and flame me for saying that, let me explain.  All loaders will have an advertized feed rate in bps that it can throw into a gun breech.  But most of these feed rates have little to no application in the real world game of paintball. The Dye Rotor claims it can feed 50 bps out of its feedneck. Now the Rotor is a fine loader, one of the best on the market, but it takes a little time, and a lot of paintballs, for the drive to ramp up to that speed.  When you only have 200 paintballs in the shell, that means it will never reach it’s max rate before it’s empty.  Also, not only can no paintball gun possibly shoot that fast, ( especially not one that most beginning players will have, ) most fields limit rate of fire around 15 bps anyway.  So again, with even the most basic loaders capable of 10 – 12 bps, any one of them will have a sufficient feed rate for you, the beginning player.  As you progress in the sport, you may want to get something faster, but unless you already know you’ll stick with the sport for a few years, don’t worry about that right now.

Size Does Matter

 How many rounds your hopper can carry will greatly affect how you play the game since it determines how often you’ll need to reload it.  A smaller hopper is fine for players on the move, those that need to be as light as possible and don’t fire as many shots in a game.  Players that hang back and give a lot of cover fire for their team can benefit from a larger hopper since they won’t need to reload so often.  Keep in mind that most hoppers actually hold about 10 – 15 balls less than their advertized capacity.  While you can probably squeeze 200 paintballs into a 200-round hopper, it puts too much pressure on the drive to let it work.  Worse, you’ll probably break a few balls inside and gum up the works.  It’s annoying, I know, but it’s how it goes.  Whatever capacity you pick, I recommend you match your paint pods accordingly.

Paintball pods come in many sizes, but 140-round pods are the most widespread, ( and like hoppers, pod capacity is usually exaggerated by 5 – 10 balls. )  What does it mean to match pods to a hopper?  Basically don’t carry pods that make it hard to reload.  The exaggerated example is to not use 180-round pods with a 150-round hopper.  But it goes deeper than that.  Suppose you have a smaller 180-round hopper, a common capacity right now.  Yes, you can empty a whole 160-round pod into it, but only when the hopper is nearly empty.  I ran into this problem once at a big scenario game and it caused me a few problems.

If I topped off my hopper, I usually had balls left in the pod.  I could either waste them on the ground or leave them in the pod.  If I left them in the pod, they would rattle around and sometimes break in the pod, making everything a mess.  Reloading the next time was then slow because I’d first use the partially empty pod and then switch to another.  My alternative to all this was just to wait until my hopper was nearly bone dry before reloading.  More than once I got caught in firefight with a quarter-full hopper because I was putting off reloading until I could empty a whole pod into it.  Had I been using 140 pods that day instead of 160 pods, it would’ve eliminated these problems.  Since then I’ve moved to a 240-round loader that works well with my 160 pods.  Let me be clear, I’m not saying you can’t or even you shouldn’t use pods that are close to the same capacity as your hopper, only that I recommend against it.

The last thing to consider is the hopper’s profile, meaning how large a target it presents for someone to shoot.  Your choice here will be limited depending on what size of hopper you get.  However, if you need more ammo on the field, I’ll take a higher capacity hopper over one with a slightly smaller profile any day.  Yes, higher capacity hoppers will be a bigger target, but that doesn’t mean it has to be a bullseye for the guy shooting at you.  If you’re looking at a few hoppers that are the same capacity, give more consideration to the sleeker profile model.  Here are a few things to look for.

A low feedneck lets the hopper sit closer to your gun so it doesn’t stick up as high.  And since you’ll most often get shot at from ahead, a longer hopper will have the  same cross-section as a shorter one so it will appear the same size from the front ( yes, it will be a slightly larger target from the side. )  Some hoppers have angled sides or rounded edges that are supposed to promote bounces and deflections from incoming fire, though I’ve never seen them help me much.  Half those deflections have just hit my mask, where it broke.  As for the other half, I don’t bank on my hopper “possibly” bouncing a shot away to keep my in the game.

Upkeep

All hoppers aren’t equal when it comes to maintenance.  Ease of use and upkeep are up to you and how much you’re willing to sacrifice one way or the other.   Some can be difficult to disassemble and clean, some have a reputation for weak bodies and feednecks.  I can’t comment on every model since there are too many and I haven’t used them all.  As always, do your research and find out what you can from reliable sources.  Don’t bother with online reviews that only say that it “ROCKS!!11!” or that it “SUX!!”  If it doesn’t give clear reasons of why, ignore it.  Look for trends.  One person complaining of a snapped feedneck might be anything, but multiple people mentioning it should be considered.

Speaking of upkeep, don’t forget batteries!  A loader with dead batteries doesn’t do much.  Some models have what’s called a Rip Drive with a handle on the bottom that lets you manually work the drive.  These are helpful for clearing jams, but playing a game on with one is really clumsy to say the least.  Get used to checking if your hopper is turned on or off.  It’s pretty easy for something to get accidentally switched on when it’s jumbled in a gear bag.  Get in the habit of checking your hopper when you get home from the field.  Check it at least the day before you play to ensure tthe batteries are still good.  If you’re going to store it for a long time, take the batteries out.  Start carrying some spare batteries in your gear bag just in case.

Jaron’s Recommendation

As with masks and air tanks, here are a few hoppers to look at if you want some specific recommendations.  First, don’t spend a lot on a hopper if you’re still undecided on whether you want to play the game long-term.  You don’t need to spend more than $30 to get a good, basic hopper.  If you’re in this crowd, browse eBay for an Apache Ricochet AK.  If  you want to spend a little more, look at a Kingman/Spyder Fasta 9V or an Empire Reloader II.  I know a lot of serious players who still use these two because they’re cheap but reliable loaders than can still feed around 15 bps.

What’s Next?

Finally, I’ve covered all the basic gear except the gun, so I suppose there’s no point in putting it off any longer.  And I promise I’ll try to have it up next week.

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