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Paintball - Choosing an HPA Tank
Sweet, Sweet Air
Decided to leap to compressed air? Well, good for you!
Decided you have no idea what is up with all the sizes and wild pricetags? You're not alone.
Compressed air, or HPA (High Pressure Air), or just "air," is a great gas source for paintball. Nearly any paintball marker can use it safely, most fields offer all-day air refills for a one-time fee, and it's a common natural resource (lol).
Buying an hpa tank is confusing, though, especially if you don't know what the numbers mean, or why there's such a jump in price between the cheapest hpa tank, and the rest of them. Let's see if we can clear things up.
The Number Game
If you've ever shopped for an hpa tank, you may recognize this:
Brand name, carbon fiber, 68 ci 4500 psi, HP --- $149.99
Brand name is obvious. There's a ton of brands. Crossfire, Ninja, Guerrilla, Pure Energy, etc. None are particularly better than the others, just choose a brand that has what you're looking for.
Carbon Fiber is one of the materials used to make the bottle part of an hpa tank. It's an expensive material to use and work with, but is very versatile and light, allowing the bottles to be made in a variety of sizes. The other materials used are aluminum or steel, which are cheaper but only available in a couple sizes (nicknamed "steelies").
The first number, 68 ci, refers to the physical size of the tank's bottle, the internal volume, measured in cubic inches. Larger the volume, more room for air, so more shots per fill. But larger doesn't always mean better if the tank is too bulky for you. Common sizes for carbon fiber are 45 ci and 68 ci but there are larger sizes out there. Steelies are usually 47 or 48 ci, but there are smaller sizes, like a 13 ci steelie primarily used for pump players.
The second number, 4500 psi, refers to the amount of pressure the tank bottle can safely contain, measured in pounds per square inch. The higher the number the better, but there's really only two - 3000 and 4500. At one point, a manufacturer tried to sell 5000 psi tanks, but hardly any compressor could fill that high so they gave up.
HP means High Pressure. There's also LP, for Low Pressure. The confusing part here is, i often refer to compressed air tanks as HPA tanks, so what's my deal? When i, or anyone else, says HPA, it refers to the fact that all compressed air tanks contain air at a very high pressure. High Pressure Air. But when you see the terms HP & LP, that refers to the tank's output pressure, the pressure it puts out when screwed onto a marker. HP outputs are around 850 psi, while LP outputs are around 450 psi. Some companies also offer mid outputs of about 600-650 psi.
The Heart of the Matter
Tank outputs are important to remember here, as this is portrays the very essence of an hpa tank - the built-in regulator.
All hpa tank valves are also regulators. Being that hpa tanks contain such ridiculously high pressures (as a comparison, car tires typically only hold around 30-40 psi), it is clearly understandable that they must use regulators complete with safety features, so as not to release all that intense pressure right into the gun, breaking all the seals, leaking air from every crevice. These regulators are also what make hpa tanks generally better than co2 tanks - they allow the tanks to have consistent outputs all the time.
That's not to say markers using hpa tanks don't benefit from regulators of their own - not all markers need (or can handle) an output pressure of 850 psi or even 450 psi. Many only need 300 psi or less to operate, so what's referred to as an inline regulator is in order. Luckily, markers that need these inline regulators usually already have them.
So Which To Choose?
Entirely up to you. Knowing now the differences in sizes, pressures, and prices, pick what suits your needs & preferences best.