There are many topics in paintball that can be debated as to which is better. Are spool markers better than poppet markers? Is it better to underbore or overbore your ammo? What's the best barrel length? Which lube should you use? But there's one debate that isn’t really even debatable because there is such an obvious answer to the question. Which is the superior power source: CO2 or high pressure air (HPA)? CO2 may be the OG (original gas) that was used in paintball guns, but that doesn’t mean it’s still the best or most commonly used power source anymore. Paintball equipment has evolved over the years for the better and the switch to HPA has helped to greatly improve paintball game-play and marker maintenance, longevity and performance. You should always ask questions as to why one product or feature is better than another. Don’t ever just take someone's word for it without an explanation and reasoning. But we are pretty confident that by the end of the article you will be convinced that HPA is the only way to go. Let’s see if we are right. What Are The Differences Between CO2 and HPA Tanks? In theory, you would think that CO2 and HPA would be really similar. I mean after all, they are both power sources that are filled in similar looking tanks that are screwed into the back of your paintball gun. Well if you're taking a “30,000-foot view” of comparing CO2 and HPA, then yeah they are pretty similar. But once you get past the fact that they are both pressure sources that make a paintball gun cycle and fire a round out the barrel. The most basic and fundamental difference between CO2 and HPA is that they are in different physical states while inside the tank. HPA is a gas (air) while CO2 is actually a liquid in the tank.
Think back to your high school chemistry classes? Do liquids and gases behave similarly? No! They each react very differently to temperature, pressure and the volume of the container they are in. The fact that HPA is a gas and CO2 is a liquid in the tank is the fundamental reason that leads to them behaving so differently during the firing process.
The Basics of CO2 As we just discussed, CO2 is a liquid when it is still in the tank. It's not until the trigger is pulled and a small burst of liquid is released from the tank does it transition from a liquid in the tank to a gas in the marker. When the trigger is pulled and CO2 is released from the confined tank and into the marker, it simultaneously expands from a liquid to a gas. And while it’s transitioning from a liquid to a gas, its temperature is also rapidly dropping. Because CO2’s transition from a liquid to a gas requires that sudden temperature drop, it can sometimes cause condensation. It is not uncommon to see this condensation appear in the form of frost coming out of the end of the barrel when a round is fired. And while it may look cool shooting out the barrel, it’s not good for your markers long-term performance. Let’s take a step back and think about this for a second. How did that frost even get from your tank to the end of the barrel? By going through all of the internals of your marker! It wasn’t contained to just one area and then magically appears in the barrel. If the frost wasjust contained to your barrel, it would be a hassle and affect your accuracy, but it probably wouldn’t lead to other problems. But it’s not just contained to the barrel. Sometimes you will see frost on the side of the actual paintball gun and this can lead to complications.
The Basics of HPA HPA on the other hand is much more stable and never changes physical states throughout the entire firing process. It is loaded into the tank in a gas state and never changes properties. But what exactly is HPA? Well there’s basically two different forms of gases used as HPA: compressed air and nitrogen. Compressed air is essentially just the air you breathe. They behave pretty much exactly the same though as compressed air is still over 70% nitrogen anyway.
How Can You Tell If The Tank Is Made For CO2 or HPA? If there’s a gauge on the side of the tank's regulator, 99% of the time it is going to be an HPA tank. Why? Because HPA is measured in units of pressure because it is a gas whereas CO2 is a liquid so it cannot be measured by a pressure gauge. Also, it’s important to remember that you cannot use HPA in a CO2 tank and vice versa. So if you’re looking to buy a tank for your marker, make sure you spend wisely because you can’t just alternate between filling your tank with CO2 one day and HPA the next. Tank "Sizes"
CO2 and HPA tank sizes are measured differently because one is filled with a liquid (CO2) while the other is filled with a gas (HPA). Liquids are measured based on volume, so CO2 tanks are most commonly referred to by how many ounces they can hold. The most standard CO2 tank is probably the 20 ounce tank.
Gases cannot be measured based on volume though because they fill up the size of whatever container they are in. Therefore, HPA tanks are rated based on how much pressure they can hold. The most common unit of measure is the pound per square inch (psi) and the standard compressed air tank is the 3,000 psi tank.
Are There Any Good Reasons To Not Switch To HPA?
Alright, so you should have a pretty good understanding of what CO2 and HPA are and how they are fundamentally so different. But before we get to the reasons why HPA is superior to CO2, we do want to discuss 1 reason why maybe you shouldn’t get an HPA tank.
And the only reason we could come up with is if you live in an area that just doesn’t have access to compressed air or nitrogen. If you live somewhere rural and love playing woodsball but don’t have a paintball shop nearby to fill your tank, your hands may be tied.
If you’re playing paintball consistently, you need a reliable place to fill your tank up. So unfortunately, if you can’t find a place nearby to fill your HPA tank, you may have to stick with CO2. Sorry!
8 Reasons Why HPA Is Better Than CO2
#1) HPA Tanks Are Easier To Fill