If you’re a brand new patron to paintballing, you may even be scratching your head at the very mention of a hopper. To shed some light on the matter, a paintball hopper is otherwise known as a loader. A hopper is an essential gear that attaches to a paintball gun, sitting on top and serving as a way for you to refill your marker with paintballs as you play.
The hopper is a critical part of any paintball gun, with all manner of factors affected by it. This component has implications for things like your firing rate, aim and accuracy. As such, sifting out the wheat from the chaff is an essential skill when choosing from the best paintball hoppers if you’re serious about securing solid performance.
What Material Makes for the Best Hopper?
You’ll find hoppers are made from the same range of materials as paintball marker barrels. On the lightweight side of the spectrum, you’ve both ceramic and aluminium options to consider. Ceramic hoppers rival aluminium when it comes to featherweight mass, but have the edge when it comes to cleaning and maintenance. On the downside, ceramic hoppers are much more fragile than metallic alternatives.
Aluminium hoppers are a commonly encountered loader option you’ll find for sale just about anywhere stocking paintball gear. Not only are these tried and tested components ran affordable choice, they’re surprisingly durable. This might surprise some who’ve been advised against aluminium when shopping for other marker elements like barrels. The drawback of these lightweight loaders is that, unlike ceramic ones, they can become soiled with paint residue very quickly, requiring regular maintenance to ensure they work properly.
As you’d expect, the stainless steel variety of paintball hoppers hits high notes when it comes to durability. What’s more, they’re a worthwhile investment for the long time, with the alloy holding up well to regular and intensive use. However, the more considerable bulk of stainless steel means your marker gains extra weight, which might be a deal-breaker for players who prize speed and manoeuvrability as paramount.
Bringing together the lightweight nature of aluminium and ceramic with the durability of stainless steel is polycarbonate fibre. Nowadays, many new hoppers arriving to the market are manufactured from this innovative material, with the ready availability of such loaders ensuring they’re an affordable option. Not only are these types of hopper light as a feather, they’re also a robust and durable choice, while also being easy to care for and clean. Polycarbonate fibre also drives performance in other ways, with the material exerting minimal friction on paintballs, resulting in higher velocities.
Things to Think About When Selecting a Paintball Hopper
Now we’ve established what exactly a paintball hopper is and what materials you’re likely to encounter when shopping for one, it’s time to delve deep into the spec. The effectiveness of paintball loaders is determined by a range of factors, with each one affecting your performance when you play.
Spend More for Enhanced Durability
As we’ve outlined, hoppers are manufactured in a variety of materials. In most cases, the hoppers you’ll come across will feature a plastic outer housing that shields the finer mechanisms within. Plastic covers a wide range of individual materials, from the relatively brittle to the incredibly resilient, with the price of any individual hopper usually dictating the ultimate quality of the product.
If you’re sticking to a tight budget and spending less on your loader, bear in mind that breakage is a strong possibility should you handle it correctly. It’s incredibly easy for the delicate innards of a loader to become damaged and cause the hopper to cease functioning correctly, even if things look fine from the outside. A more affordable hopper manufactured from plastic should suit occasional players well enough, but those who frequent the paintballing field of play are best advised to throw a little more money at their purchase.
Ensuring Quicker Refills and Faster Feed Rates
A speed feed is one hopper element you can’t ignore and serves as a crucial cog in the machine that is your paintball marker. Upon first inspection of these round components, you’ll notice that the rim of the feed is fanged. The reason for this is to ensure loading runs as smoothly as possible. As the name suggests, speed feeds also allow for much faster reloading of your hopper. If you’re finding you’re being held back by refill times in the field, a speed feed is well worth looking into.
When picking one, make sure you select something that’s compatible with your paintball marker as there’s a lot of variety here. The more experienced paintballer will also want to give feed rate due consideration when shopping for hoppers. The more expensive hoppers on the market usually provide the shooter with significantly higher feed rates. Conversely, there are hoppers with slower feed rates that make a more sensible choice for those just starting out with paintballing.
Internal Mechanisms and Variations
Unlike other elements at work within paintball hoppers, the mechanism that drives such loaders doesn’t really differ in design or functionality between models. This is certainly true of specific components of the mechanism, such as the drive shaft and its motor, which are largely identical from hopper to hopper. There are some examples of variation, however. The direction of the tilt of the hopper is one such variation, with backward and forward-facing alternatives to best suit your reload style.
Avoiding Loader Jams
There’s nothing worse than finding yourself in close-quartered combat with the enemy, only to have your marker fail on you thanks to a jammed hopper. In such an event, you can pretty much write yourself out of the game, which is why securing a hopper with anti-jam credentials is a must. Anti-jamming drives are a fairly common element of paintball loaders nowadays, with the feature not a reserve of the more expensive slice of the market.
The paintball capacity of hoppers varies considerably. With a lot of basic hopper models, you can expect 20 paintballs per minute as the standard. For more serious paintballing scenarios, there’s hopper alternatives boasting capacity levels of upwards of 200. A lower capacity is all fine and well for the beginner getting to grips with the sport, but the more proficient player will certainly find themselves seeking a higher capacity as they develop. The great advantage of hoppers with higher capacities is that the shooter can continue firing on the enemy as they pause to reload their own guns.
Although high-capacity loaders make sense for those who paintball frequently and prefer all-day combat, there are some potential drawbacks concerning reliability. Any hopper with a capacity over a certain level will see an increased chance of malfunctioning. Regardless of the quality of a high-capacity hopper and the reputation of the manufacturer that produced it, any high-capacity hopper should be meticulously maintained to ensure things continue to run as smoothly as possible. If you’re not likely to practice such standards in upkeep, you may be better off with a loader with a lower overall capacity that won’t run the same risk of malfunctioning.
Don’t Let Your Hopper Weigh You Down
The overall weight of your loader will have implications on your performance. If your budget allows, opt for a durable design that boasts a more lightweight construction. Today, a great deal of hoppers from established manufacturers are relatively sleek, so you shouldn’t have too much trouble keeping light on your feet during combat. That being said, should you opt for a high-quality stainless steel hopper, the pay-off is a more considerable weight. In this case, it’s up to you whether durability ranks more important to you than the weight of your marker.
Be Ready for Any Weather
High levels of moisture are a standard of paintballing, even without the weather ditching a downpour on you. Paintballs themselves bring plenty of the wet stuff to proceedings, with the situation only made worse when the heavens do open. If your paintball loader isn’t water-resistant in design, it can quickly become damaged and inoperable. Water-resistance should therefore be a key credential of any hopper you’re looking to buy. Not only will it mean better loading performance overall, it will lessen the amount of required upkeep and maintenance on your part to keep it in order.
Are Loader Looks Important?
Depending on which paintballer you ask, aesthetics aren’t everything. However, having a hopper that at least vaguely complements your paintball marker is an ideal. You’ll find hoppers in all manner of colours, sizes and shapes, so there’s no obstacle in finding something that matches your marker more or less perfectly if you take the time to look. Aside from pure aesthetics, the shape of your hopper has an impact on your manoeuvrability and speed while paintballing. A more minimalist design will also prove a more comfortable option when it comes to handling, especially during all-day events and long fixtures.
Paintball Types and Loader Compatibility
As we’ve just mentioned, there’s a huge deal of variety when it comes to the paintball hopper market. The true can be said of paintballs themselves. Some paintball rounds are brittle in design, some are smooth and smooth are textured, while others are greasier to the touch than others. Certain types of paintball require certain types of loaders, so make sure you pay particular focus to compatibility spec when purchasing a new one. To edge on the side of caution, choose a paintball hopper that supports loading with a broader variety of paintball types.
The Best Paintball Hoppers
Read our paintball loader guide and still unsure of what hopper to spend to your hard-earned cash on? For some further inspiration, we’ve cherry-picked a selection of some of the best paintball hoppers currently available on the market. If you’re looking to complete the weapon load-out, have a look at our review on the best paintball guns.
Take your paintballing prowess to the next level with the Virtue Spire IV Electronic Paintball Loader. With 220 or 280-round capacities on offer, this is a go-to for the advanced paintballer keen to keep going all day long. What’s more, enhanced anti-jamming features ensure less congested feeding, saving you the stress of malfunction in the midst of play. Premier electronic features of this loader include a dual LED reload indicator, while the overall design has been rendered more compact than other models on the market. The result is a user-friendly loader that looks great and performs above the standard.
When it comes price/performance ratio, the DYE LT-R holds up very well indeed. Suitable for almost every style of paintball play, this loaders puts its patented DYE technology to good use, delivering impressive feed rates and reliable performance, every time. As electronic loaders go, the DYE LT-R is an incredibly efficient option, with a single change of AA batteries equating to approximately 80,000 balls fired. There’s plenty of ways to tweak this loader to your liking too, with feed tension just one of the helpful areas of adjustment. Anti-jam functionality and an overall superior build to most models on the market make the DYE LT-R a standout.
This Halo Too Paintball Loader from Empire is definitely something to consider if you’re looking for a hopper that combines a high capacity with lightweight design and fast feed spec. This impressive loader holds 180 rounds as standard, while feeds of more than 20 balls per second can be expected as standard. The robust build is also worth praise, with a polycarbonate housing on hand to handle impacts from enemy fire with ease, keeping the internal mechanisms of the hopper protected and operating perfectly for a long time to come. As an extra perk, a low battery indicator alerts you to critical levels, ensuring you won’t get caught short in the middle of play.
The Proto Primo Paintball Hopper should impress potential buyers in all the areas that count. For a start, you’ve a respectable 200-round capacity, while the loader design ensures a more consistent feed of rounds by effectively sorting and funnelling paintballs while you fire. The spring-loaded lid is a nice touch, helping you reload with fresh rounds more quickly in the midst of a game. What’s more, there’s a healthy selection of colourways on offer, ensuring you’ll find something that proves a suitable match to you marker.
This gravity fed paintball loader from BASE brings convenient features aplenty to the playing field. For one, there’s the anti-jamming tray design that separates paintballs into different areas, upping your overall feed rate while slashing the chance of jams. A generous capacity of 180 rounds also makes this a solid option for longer paintball events, while premium materials and a quality construction mean you’ve got a loader that will hold up well for a long time to come.
Occupying the more premium end of the paintball hopper spectrum, this 200 round loader from Empire is definitely worth considering if you’ve the budget for the investment. The generous capacity for 200 paintballs makes it a good choice for the more proficient player used to longer games, while the pared-back black design ensures a stylish complement to your marker. The premium investment also provides a more robust choice of hopper, with a durable polymer construction ensuring you’ve got a loader with a lengthy operational life.
This gravity-fed loader is a good choice for anyone after a high-capacity option, holding up to 200 rounds. This affordable hopper is also a good choice when it comes to versatility thanks to its sleek black design, while cross-compatibility also ensures it will fit most models of standard paintball marker. If you’re worried about the hassle of maintenance, the GENx 200 will again impress thanks to its innovative two-half construction, allowing for quick and easy disassembling prior to cleaning.