The debate between gravity fed and agitated hoppers rages on as paintballers everywhere try to decide which choice will provide them with the best possible results. Here are a few key points for each style and how they compare head to head.
A gravity fed hopper is essentially a container with paintballs in it. It sits casually on top of your gun and feeds those paintballs one at a time into the gun - or at least they are supposed to. These are generally the cheapest hopper options available and have a low rate of loading due to the speed of gravity and the bouncing of the paintballs off of each other. If you are firing too quickly, the balls in the hopper will stick to each other and form an arch over the hole, stopping the feed of paintballs. You can shake the hopper to fix the problem, but it will generally slow your rate. The basic problems with gravity fed hoppers are the reason why an agitated hopper was developed.
These hoppers contain a motor that connects to a paddle spinning and breaking up the arches that form when the paintballs gather over the feed hole. This ensures the paintballs keep feeding into the gun at a steady pace, pushing through the hole and not slowing down your shots.
The speed difference between from a gravity operated to agitated hopper is actually non-existent. However, because there is no break in the feed of paintballs, you do not need to stop and shake them free for any reason. They will continually feed. Agitated hoppers are slightly more expensive than their gravity fed counterparts - starting at $25 and rising rapidly from there.
The agitated hopper comes in multiple different forms as well. You can find some with very simple, straight paddles that push the paintballs through the feed hole. Others will have paddles that are shaped like propellers to physically move the paintballs downward into the gun. They will not spin constantly most of the time; rather they move only when the balls stop feeding into the gun, making them more efficient. This is done with a small sensor that will detect a gap between paintballs feeding through. If the gap grows too large, the paddles will start spinning. A single 9-volt battery is usually sufficient to run an agitated feeder.
A force fed hopper does a little bit more than an agitated hopper by actually forcing the paintballs into the chamber from the hopper. It will usually have the paintballs fall to either side of a cone, then rotate the cone to drop the paintballs into the chamber one at a time. This kind of hopper will continually force feed paintballs for as long as necessary to keep you firing at a constant rate. These machines are highly efficient and reliable, but can cost as much as $100 for a low end model.
When making a choice between hoppers, remember what you need for your outing. If you are playing speedball, you will definitely need at least an agitated feeder to ensure constant firing - while woodsball with a few beginner friends will likely be okay with a gravity fed hopper.
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