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Paintball - All About Hoppers & Loaders
What they are, what they do
Ah, hoppers. Or loaders. Those ugly plastic balloons that sit all awkwardly on top of our markers. What's up with that?
Hoppers & loaders hold paintballs and feed them directly to the marker. They come in various shapes, sizes & brands, and different features & abilities.
Now the basic terminology - hopper & loader. Generally, it doesn't matter which you call them. But if you want to get technical, a hopper is just a hopper; very plain, very simple, gravity does most of the work. A loader is a hopper with some sort of mechanism that moves the paintballs, to boost the rate of feeding. Really just a lesson in semantics, some knowledge for idiot savants, but it's worth putting that out there. And it helps with these next few sections.
Hoppers (the plain ones)
So, yes, hoppers. Gravity does all the work with these puppies. They're nothing more than hollow plastic balloons in various designs, but in the end they all do the same thing. Cheap & simple, but slow feeding & need occasional shakes as balls often get crowded around the feedneck.
Hoppers come in various sizes. Like these!
- Feed tubes: 10-15 rd (round) tubes, usually used on some pump markers.
- Pocket hoppers: 40-50 rd, again most often used on some pump markers.
- Standard hoppers: 200 rd ones seen on rentals, beginner packages, etc.
- Uncommon hoppers: other sizes exist, but are largely rare to see, since not everone knows about them these days (like APP's 300 rd loader from the late 1980s).
Loaders (the fancy ones)
Loaders are hoppers that have a little something extra to enhance their performance. Usually, this enhancement is in the form of some electronics. But there are some rather unique ones that involve springs, which i'll cover in the last section. For now, let's cover the main types of loaders, the electronic ones. All have one thing in common: battery-powered motor controlled by a circuit board.
- Agitating: the most rudimentary of loaders. The motor spins a simplistic impeller, and this impeller stirs up the paintballs to prevent them from bottle-necking. Some agitate constantly while the loader is on, others only operate only at certain times (which i'll explain soon).
- Force-fed: the motor is beefier & the impeller is more complex; designed not to agitate, but to purposefully hold and move rows of paintballs straight down the feedneck. Some even have spring-loaded impellers that maintain a certain amount of pressure on the stack of balls in the feedneck.
Within these types of loaders, there are 4 ways that activate their operation (listed in order of complexity).
- Constant: flip the switch, and the impeller spins forever, or as batter power allows (or until you turn it off). Only used in the cheapest of agitating loaders, and really aren't worth owning. Being constantly spinning, there's a lot of noise, and it drains the battery(ies) fairly quickly. Sometimes the force at which they spin can crush paintballs, if they catch a crappy ball at the wrong angle.
- Bend sensor: a plastic or metal tab sits near the top of the feedneck. The tab has a sensor connected to the board. When the tab is bent, it means there's a ball there, and the loader is at rest; when the tab is no longer bent, it means a ball has moved, so the loader knows to spin to get another ball in place. Pretty reliable & no-nonsense, but the tab can get worn out over time.
- Vision: a pair (or 2 pairs) of light-emitting diodes (LEDs) are connected to the board, commonly called "eyes." When the eyes "see" a ball, the loader is at rest; when they don't, the loader knows to spin. This is the first sensor system to be used in force-fed loaders.
- Sound: a sort of microphone picks up certain sounds, like the ones most associated with the marker firing. But to more understand how that works, you should understand how sound works - a series of vibrations that our brains translate. So really these loaders sense the vibrations of the marker firing, so not just any sound activates it.
There are some oddball loaders that don't use electronics, but they aren't gravity-fed. And here they are:
- Spring-loaded feed tubes: most common example right now is the stick loader made by Empire/BT, usually used on either the Empire Trracer pump or BT SA-17 pistol. There's a small plate with a spring behind it; when loaded, the spring-backed plate moves paintballs towards the feedneck as you shoot. Found in other feed tubes as well, usually paintball pistols. Some people even make their own.
- Warp Feed: old school, made by AirGun Designs (AGD). It's a small plastic box w/ a motor & force-fed impeller inside, essentially, with a flexible hose that leads to a marker's feedneck. It requires the use of an electronic loader to load the box with paintballs while the box mechanism boosts the speed and feeds the balls through the hose. It was a bulky assembly, but some people preferred that to having a plastic balloon sitting on top of the marker. Not seen or used much anymore, but some old school ballers love to sport the classics, occasionally.
- Q-Loader: like the Warp Feed, it's a system that replaces traditional hoppers or loaders by mounting elsewhere on the marker and feeding through a flexible hose. But this system is unique, in the fact that it's not only electronic-free, but also uses proprietary pods. The pods are spring-loaded, similar to spring-loaded stick loaders, but the size of regular pods, and you "plug" them into an attachment mounted underneath the marker's barrel (or wherever you want). Once locked in, the pods release the spring, and the balls zoom up the hose.