If you’re a paintball player, chances are you’ve been debating the pros and cons of using CO2 vs HPA tanks. While both types of tanks have their benefits and drawbacks, understanding which one is right for you can help you make an informed decision.
It’s important to choose the proper air source for your paintball gun. CO2 or high-pressure air (HPA), commonly called “compressed air,” are your two major options. Most electronically triggered paintball guns will require the use of HPA and won’t function with CO2, so you won’t always have an option between the two air sources.
The decision can be complicated for new players when both options are available, especially with mechanically-triggered paintball guns. However, read on to learn more about the two air sources and which is ideal for you.
Let’s break down the differences between these two common types of tanks used in paintball so you can decide which is best for your needs.
What is the difference between CO2 paintball tanks and HPA paintball tanks?
The main difference between CO2 and HPA tanks is that whereas HPA tanks are similar to scuba tanks in that they are filled with pressurized air that humans breathe, CO2 tanks are loaded with carbon dioxide.
While CO2 is an unstable gas whose pressure can change depending on the temperature, HPA tanks are considerably more stable and have a regulator built in for a consistent output pressure.
CO2 or compressed air (HPA): Which do paintball guns use?
Although all paintball guns require an air source to function, not all can use CO2 and HPA. All paintball guns now on the market can use compressed air, but only the most basic models, like Tippmanns, Spyders, and pistols, can also use both.
Paintball guns from Dye, Planet Eclipse, Empire, GOG, Bob Long/Field One, Proto, SP, and Luxe can only operate on compressed air and cannot function on CO2. Your paintball gun is at a very high risk of being damaged if you use CO2 on any of the aforementioned items.
Your paintball gun’s owner’s manual will provide the recommended air supply if you are unsure what it uses.
CO2 paintball tanks
As mentioned, carbon dioxide is pumped into CO2 tanks and kept as a liquid. As soon as the liquid leaves the tank and enters your paintball gun, the ambient heat will turn the liquid CO2 into a gas, enabling your paintball gun to fire a ball.
Since CO2 tanks don’t have a regulator, their design is much simpler than HPA tanks. These tanks are made to withstand between 850 and 900 psi, which shouldn’t exceed 1000 psi.
Pros of the CO2 paintball tanks
- Affordable tanks: CO2 tanks usually cost between $18 and $30, much less than HPA tanks.
- More shots per fill: Because CO2 is a denser gas than compressed air, it can be filled more frequently than an HPA tank of comparable size.
- Easy to fill: If you don’t live close to a paintball field or pro shop, you can still discover many locations to fill a CO2 tank by searching for “CO2” and your location in Google.
- Older paintball guns function better with CO2: When paintball first gained popularity, most guns were made to operate on CO2, some of which could run on liquid CO2.
- Freezing: As CO2 transforms from a liquid to a gas, the tank and the gun get cold. Everything grows colder the more you fire. Cold conditions can cause your gun to jam and stop functioning.
- Unstable pressure: The output pressure will decrease as the tank’s temperature decreases. Your velocity will decrease as a result until you give everything time to warm up again. The tank may overpressurize in hot weather, which could increase your velocity or cause a burst disk to blow when it becomes too hot.
- CO2 cloud will affect vision: When you fire a CO2 paintball gun, a white cloud will appear at the end of the barrel. This could make it difficult to see or perhaps reveal where you are.
- Your tank cannot be “topped off”: There is no quick and simple way to fill your tank with CO2. All the CO2 must be dumped into the tank to chill it before you can refill it.
- Compatibility with paintball guns: Today, most paintball guns cannot use CO2. Both CO2 and HPA will only function with the most basic guns.
HPA paintball tanks
Like a scuba tank, compressed air tanks, also known as high-pressure air (HPA), nitrogen, nitro, or N2 tanks, are filled with compressed, breathable air. They are constructed of aluminum or aluminum covered with carbon and can withstand between 3000 and 4500 psi pressures.
What matters is the pressure that paintball tanks can withstand rather than the output pressure. The valve on HPA tanks has a regulator built into it that will reduce the tank pressure to a level your paintball pistol can use. Depending on the installed regulator, certain HPA tanks can be adjusted from 300 to 1100 psi, as opposed to the standard output pressure of 850 psi.
By delivering a more reliable air source unaffected by temperature, HPA tanks were first employed to address the significant limitations that CO2 had on paintball guns. You can fire your weapon as fast as possible without experiencing shootdown, unlike with CO2.
Pros of the HPA paintball tanks
- Consistent pressure: The outside temperature has no impact on the output pressure.
- No cloud obstructing your vision: Compressed air is much less likely to do so when shooting. You won’t see any gas clouds in front of you unless it is humid outside.
- Compatible and safe with all paintball guns: Every paintball gun on the market today is safe since they are all built to be used with compressed air.
- Refilling and topping off HPA tanks is simple: All needed is to connect the fill hose to the fill nipple and fill. No need to empty the tank of air before refilling.
- HPA tanks are expensive: HPA tanks are much more expensive than CO2 tanks. Depending on the type of regulator used and the material used to build the tank, they can cost anywhere from $40 to $250.
- Refilling requires specialized equipment: You’ll either need to find a pro shop or a paintball field or use a scuba tank with an adaptor.
- HPA tanks are large: When comparing shots per tank, HPA tanks are much larger than CO2 tanks.
- More complex valves: HPA tank valves aren’t merely open-and-close pin valves; they also have a regulator, a pressure gauge, and an air input.
The cost of refilling your tank should be considered when selecting a tank. Since most paintball fields have to buy CO2 from an outside source, you will almost certainly be charged for CO2 fills.
Having a strong compressor on hand allows many paintball fields to compress their own air. This generally translates into free HPA fills for anyone playing on the field.
Which one suits you the best? Our top choice is the HPA tank. An HPA tank will initially cost more to buy, but as you play paintball, the HPA tank will turn out to be a much better financial decision.