With the vast amount of paintball merchandise available on the market today, it's easy to get confused when you're trying to find the right gear to fit your needs. Although in reality your budget will ultimately be the determining factor for what you buy, there are some other important issues to consider.
Most people buy gear based on their skill level and also on how and how often they will use their equipment. Start by considering which paintball marker is right for you then consider which accessories will optimize that marker. You must also determine what protective gear you will need. Finally, keep in mind some important facts about buying and storing paintballs.
Buying the Right Marker
Most players usually fall into one of three categories: Beginner or Occasional Player - Consider purchasing a less expensive non-electric marker. You can always upgrade your marker with parts such as an electric trigger frame as your interest and participation in the sport increases.
Consistent Rec Ball Player - Consider buying a low to mid level electric marker that supports a good bit of aftermarket upgrades. If you buy too cheap to start, you'll be upgrading or repurchasing another marker soon. It may save you more money to initially purchase the marker with the features you'll otherwise be upgrading to in the near future.
Tournament or League Team Player - Buy the best marker you can afford. Not only should you be concerned with features and performance, but a better marker will weather the wear and tear of constant use. You'll most likely be playing a certain position if you play on a team. Most front players want a marker setup that is light and accurate. They have to move quick to get into position. The back or cover players should be more concerned with having a marker with a high ROF (rate of fire). A good marker with a high ROF will allow for a lot of paint to be shot relatively problem free.
Necessities and Accessories
CO2 Tanks - Most tanks are made of steel or aluminum and hold liquid CO2. This is the standard choice for most beginners and rec ball players. CO2 fills are cheap and most fields and sporting good stores are equipped to fill these tanks. Although heavy in weight, CO2 tanks will hold up well to use. The size of the tank will determine the number of shots you can fire per fill.
CO2 is not a good choice for high end markers or markers with a high ROF. CO2 uses thermal energy to expand from a liquid into the gas used to power the marker. This is the reason CO2 tanks and cartridges feel cold after use. Using CO2 on a high ROF marker may eventually allow liquid CO2 into the marker jamming the internals. The use of an expansion chamber will help this. Also keep in mind that CO2 is affected by extremes in temperature which can affect the performance consistency of a marker.
HPA (High Pressure Air) or Nitrogen Tanks - HPA tanks are a more expensive alternative to CO2. Most HPA tanks are made from a light-weight carbon-fiber composite material and come in various sizes. This is the tank of choice for those players who want a light setup with more shot volume than CO2. HPA tanks are filled with normal air or nitrogen therefore you don't have to worry about the drawbacks of using liquid CO2. A marker using an HPA tank will have more consistent velocity and accuracy than a CO2 powered marker. An HPA tank is usually the tank of choice for a tournament player.
Not all fields and sporting goods stores are equipped to fill HPA tanks. The price of HPA fills can vary. HPA tanks are not as tough as the CO2 steel and aluminum tanks. HPA systems are labeled with a date on which they were first pressure tested. You will need to have an HPA tank pressure tested every few years depending on the original date on the tank and the manufacturer's recommendations.
Barrels - A new barrel is usually the first upgrade people make on a marker. There is an extensive selection of barrels available today. Barrels differ in length, bore (inside diameter) and the material by which they are composed. Most barrels on the market are available in 10-18 inches. The length of the barrels should reflect preference and position. There is some controversy whether or not a longer barrel will significantly improve accuracy. Most players use the barrel as a site or reference guide when shooting. Some believe that the improved accuracy resulting from longer barrels may be due more to the benefit regarding site than anything else.
The bore or inside diameter of a barrel should match the size of paintball being used. Most barrels are made to accommodate the standard .68 caliber paintball. Some barrel kits come with inserts. The sleeve-like inserts are placed inside the barrel to better match the barrel bore with the paintball caliber or size.
Barrels made of lighter materials such as titanium or carbon fiber may be the best choice for players who are constantly on the move. The added weight of the heavier steel barrels may be helpful to steady a marker when aiming and firing for back players providing cover for teammates.