Picture this: you have your paintball gun and you’re ready to storm the field with your teammates but in the middle of battle, your air tank runs out. What do you do?
Well, obviously, you’ll need to refill that up so you can get back in the game. Refilling an air tank however is nothing like pumping air into tires. Understand that air tanks operate with 4000 to 5000 psi or pounds per square inch. The typical compressor you use for vehicles? Only around 180 psi or more if you’re lucky.
So can you use a tire inflator to refill your paintball air tank? The short answer is: no.
What to Use for Air Tank Refill
There are specialized air compressors used for refilling paintball gun air tanks. If you’re serious about the game – or have the money for it – then you can buy these tanks for personal use.
Most players however refill their tanks in one of two places: (1) the paintball gun playing field or (2) the paintball gun store. They will let you use the air compressor for a small fee. Many of these compressors are operated in exactly the same way. If you’ve ever filled a flat tire, then refilling the tank should not be a problem. In fact, they’re easier to fill because of the convenient gauge that comes with the air compressor.
Kinds of Tanks
Before we move forward with a step by step guide on tank refill, it’s important to first recognize the type of tank you own. Don’t worry – when it comes to the actual content of the tank, there’s really just three types out there: HPA, CO2, and Pure Nitrogen.
HPA or High Pressure Compressed Air Tanks contain oxygen that’s highly pressurized. The biggest ones are around 5,000 psi and will give you high-powered shots in the field. The other one contains CO2 or Compressed Carbon Dioxide. What’s the difference? Well, compressed CO2 is often in liquid form rather than gas. It only becomes gas once you release it from the tank or basically, when you pull the trigger of your paintball gun.
Finally, there’s the Pure Nitrogen tank which is very rare. If you want this kind of tank, then you might have a hard time refilling it – even in your local paintball station. For this reason, it’s best to stick to either HPA or CO2.
Which One is Better?
Here comes the crucial question though – which tank type will give you better performance in the field? The general consensus is HPA tanks. This means that most players prefer to use HPA instead of CO2, but why?
For one thing, CO2 is dependent on temperature. If the environment around the tank gets too hot, there’s a chance that the liquid inside will expand and cause damage to the internal integrity of the tank. If the temperature is too cold, the CO2 will shrink so the pressure inside the tank actually decreases, making it impossible to shoot over long distances. Since paintball is often played in the field where heat and cold can be extreme – this can be a big downside for CO2 tank users. There’s also the fact that CO2 needs to transition from liquid to gas with each shot – which means that you won’t be able to shoot in rapid succession.
So why do some people still use CO2? Well, the primary reason is the price. CO2 tanks are way cheaper and are actually cleaner if you take the environmental view. In terms of efficiency however, HPA performs better.
Refilling Your Tank – A Guide
Once you find your refilling station, the next step is to actually fill your tank. Obviously, the compressor for an HPA tank is different from that of a CO2 tank. Ideally, your refilling station would have both. Here’s how to get it done:
Step 1: Find Out Tank PSI
Your tank should have an indicator as to how much PSI it should contain. The maximum is typically 4500 PSI so you should NEVER go beyond that.
Note that if you have a CO2 tank, the tank should first be refrigerated to stabilize the temperature inside the tank. This would make it easier for you to fill it completely.
Step 2: Attach to the Fill Nipple
Take a good look at the attachment that will be connected to your air tank. There should be a dark little O-ring there that’s designed to prevent air from escaping once you attach it to the tank. If you can’t find the O-ring, then the tank would not be filled because air will just escape through that tiny surface. Call someone if you notice that there’s no O-ring.
If the O-ring is there however, simply pull back on the collar of the attachment so the central needle would be fully exposed. Plug it into your tank through the filling nipple. Make sure it’s secured by jiggling the hose a little. The attachment should be firm.
Step 3: Slowly Fill the Tank
Once you’re sure of the attachment, slowly release air into the tank. You can do this by pushing onto the lever of the compressor. Some compressors come with buttons though so just make sure to pay attention.
In either case, do not push the lever or button all throughout. You want the fill to be slow and sure rather than done rapidly. As the refill happens, the gauge needle should move upwards. Again, paintball air tanks only have 3000 or 4500 PSI so you should know what category your tank belongs to.
Step 4: Watch BOTH Gauges
There will be two gauges there – the one attached to your gun and another attached to the air compressor. It’s a good idea to watch both as you refill the tank as a way to countercheck the function of the gauge. Ideally, both gauges should move in a similar fashion – telling you that they’re both working correctly.
Step 5: Prevent a Hot Fill
One of the major mistakes you can make when filling a tank is filling it too quickly. This is called a “hot fill” and it happens when you push the lever or the button too much. The air just blasts off the compressor and into your tank, causing the gauge to rapidly rise. You don’t want this to happen because it can damage the tank and cause you to overestimate the content of the tank.
A hot fill only appears to fill the tank. Soon after disconnection, the air will get hot and the gauge will drop down even if you’re not actually using the tank. To prevent this from happening, keep the fill process slow. The last thing you want is for the tank to suddenly be empty 15 minutes after you topped it up.
Step 6: Release the Pressure
This is the most important step that many rookies forget. After you’re done with the air refill, the air compressor would still have some air inside it ready to be transferred into the tank. This air should be released via the release valve that’s attached to the air compressor. Pushing on this will allow all the extra air to burst out. This will make a loud “whoosh” sound so don’t be concerned about it.
Failing to release the pressure can be problematic because this means that there’s still air passing through the hose upon release. This can be damaging to the tank, especially to the fill nipple.
Step 7: Detach the Hose
After releasing the pressure, you can now detach the hose from the fill nipple. Just do everything else in reverse starting with the collar. Pull it down and remove the hose from its attachment. Place the hose gently back onto the table and you’re ready to go!
Can You Switch Between Tanks?
The simple answer is no. You can’t just change to a CO2 tank after using an HPA tank on the same paintball gun. Paintball guns come with markers that tell you if it’s for HPA or CO2. You cannot use an HPA tank for a gun with CO2 markers and vice versa – otherwise you’d be ruining the gun itself.
Ask for Help if Unsure
Keep in mind that no one is born knowing how to refill air tanks of their paintball guns. Hence, if you’re unsure or confused – do not be afraid to ask for help. Many paintball gun enthusiasts are happy to help beginners in order to keep the sport strong and growing. It’s also a good idea to observe others as they refill their tanks so you have a better idea on how to approach each step. Pretty soon, all of this will only necessitate muscle memory to perform.
In a nutshell, refilling your paintball gun air tank is a simple matter of bringing the right parts together. As you get used to the process, you’ll find that it becomes easier and practically automatic. You’ll note though that playing often also means refilling often so if you can invest on your own air compressor, this can actually save you tons of dollars in small fees.