CO2 vs. Compressed Air: A discussion full of Gas
For 95% of the paintball community we’ve all stood in the same spot at one point or another. We went to our local store or were exploring the endless options available to us on our favorite online retailer. When we finally selected what marker we wanted to help fulfill our real life cops and robbers fantasy often times the next question (which for the most part we are less prepared to answer) is “What kind of tank would you like?” Don’t worry though I’m here today to help you avoid the nervous sweats which are accompanied by awkward social situations. We are going to get through this together!
When I started playing paintball the answer to this question was way more complicated. Co2 was the cost effective option coming in at about 40 bucks for a 20oz bottle. Compressed air was reserved only for the “speedballers” with the most reasonable tank option sitting right around 100 bucks (we won’t even get into the carbon fiber wrapped bottles which at that time were 400+ dollars.)
Luckily for us as the sport has become more main stream these prices have gone down and have become much closer together. You can now purchase a 20oz Co2 tank for right round 33 dollars while the entry level compressed air options rolls in at 50 dollars.
Why choose one over the other? Pros and Cons
There are two main reasons why even with the tightening of the price gap Co2 has remained relevant. The first being when purchasing an entry level paintball package often times (especially for our younger audience) every dollar counts in terms of getting them into the sport (We will address this). The second reason being the availability of Co2 to the general public for the most part is a little easier. People living in rural areas often times do not have access to the compressors necessary to fill a compressed air tank HOWEVER most of these people will have some sort of local welding or sporting goods shop that can fill a co2 tank and in some cases they will rent larger bulk tanks and even fill their own tanks on their property. This is a great option for those who do not have access to a proper paintball field but own large quantities of land for their friends and themselves to frolic on. The downside (or upside depending how you look at it) to this is that many paintball fields are starting to move away from Co2 and only offer compressed air.
The downside of co2 starts to take you down the more technical side of the paintball rabbit hole. The pressure of all gases is affected by temperature, but much more so with CO2, a full tank at 30 degrees Fahrenheit will have about 400 psi in it, while that exact same tank at room temperature will be around 800 psi. Most entry level markers need at least 600 psi to operate correctly, so cold weather use of CO2 is problematic. Another negative is that your tank’s temperature will fluctuate throughout the day as you play, and this will affect your marker’s velocity, causing it to go up and down as you shoot. This will obviously create accuracy issues. Now for the main reason why Co2 is NOT the best option out of the gate. It is only a functional option on lower end paintball equipment. As you upgrade your equipment your co2 tank will be left behind. Most markers once you breach the 300 dollar price point CANNOT function on co2. This means that after you go out and play for your first time and fall in love with the sport you will find yourself needing to upgrade that air tank. It is much more financially responsible to future proof yourself from the start for the extra 17 dollars.
Compressed Air Pros
Compressed air is exactly as the name says, it’s the air that you’re breathing every day, just at a very high pressure. The volume of the bottle is measured in Cubic inches as well as pressure capacity, for example - a common entry level tank is 48 cubic inch/ 3000 psi. Now that entry level (and even competitive level) compressed air tanks have dropped in price bringing them much more in line with co2 tank pricing the question of choice becomes a lot easier to answer. Compressed air isn’t impacted as much by atmospheric temperature, and the tanks have a regulator on them that control the output, so the pressure going into your marker will be extremely consistent. Thus, cold weather isn’t an issue, nor will velocity. Everything will work fine, in any weather. The main reason compressed air is a better choice for a first time buyer is that your bottle has the capability to follow you along your paintball journey. The rule of thumb being (with only a few exceptions) “all paintball markers can function on compressed air but not all paintball markers can function on co2”. The electronics present in higher end paintball markers cannot handle the variable pressures and liquid element of co2 and would simply toast the components of the marker. If you have any aspirations of making paintball a hobby in the future it is definitely worth the extra couple bucks to future proof yourself.
Compressed Air Cons
The only thing I can knock compressed air on is the availability outside of areas that have a paintball store or field. A compressed air bottle cannot be filled by the same type of compressor used for tools and requires its own proprietary compressor (cheaper at home options are starting to become more available as of the time of writing this).
The Nitty Gritty
Being involved in the sport of paintball as a player for 23 years and for being intertwined in this great industry for over 18 I’m happy the question has become much easier to answer. I can safely say that every person who I have personally been involved with putting paintball equipment in their hands over the past 5 years has walked out with some type of a compressed air bottle. The benefits of compressed air over co2 will unquestionably outweigh the extra cost. You will find yourself with a much healthier paintball marker, a more positive paintball experience and most importantly when you eventually upgrade your marker, you won’t have to upgrade your tank as well. You can check out the gear packages available in our store or on our website which offers a discounted price on getting everything into your hands which you need to play paintball. This will bring the cost of that compressed air tank bottle right in line with that of a co2 tank.
Now get your friends together and Get out and Play!
By: Paul Laska