My thanks to the following for graciously supplying some of the equipment used in this review. Without their cooperation and assistance, this article could not have been completed.
Bad Boyz Toyz: 17913 Torrence Ave., Lansing, IL 60438, (708) 418-1212
Pro-Team Products: Box 1555 Flagler Beach, FL 32136, (904) 439-3600
Nemco Inc.: 4502 Hallandale Beach Blvd., Pembroke Park, FL 33023
Paintball Mania Supplies: P.O. Box 528, Arnold, MO 63010, (314) 296-0964
A Tale of Four Hoses
İRavi Chopra, 1996
Ahh, the joys of high-tech paintball. I remember the days when the only gas source was a small 12 gram CO2 cylinder that had to be jammed into a very inconvenient part of the paintgun, and which got you maybe 20 good shots. I remember when constant air came on the scene, turning the paintball world on its ear and making the new speed limit dependent on how fast you could dump paint into the 'gun rather than on how fast you could switch your CO2 cartridge. I remember how 7 oz. tanks made way for 9 oz. tanks, 12 oz. tanks, and finally for the big 20 oz. tanks.
And I remember the first remote systems which allowed you to shift the weight of that 20 oz. beast off your 'gun and onto your back. The only problem was that the long remote hoses had an annoying tendency to hang out to the side where they could hook loose branches and brush, as well as providing a target for sharpshooters on your opponent's team. The problems inherent with the very strong, but relatively inflexible steel-braid hose were overcome through the introduction of hoses that had long been in use in the pneumatics industry.
Enter the Mamba.
The Mamba was the first expandible remote hose on the market. It is a small, spiral hose that can stretch to whatever length you need and hangs easily at your side without sticking out or hooking nearby objects. On the other hand, it comes from England (no warranty), and when it was first released, it was not widely available, it suffered many rumors of poor reliability, and it was expensive. But it was really cool, and many people wanted it. It was inevitable that others would enter the market with their own coiled remote hoses.
What I've gathered together here are the four expandible remote hoses widely available in the United States at the time of this writing: the original Mamba, Paintball Mania Supplies' Slinki hose, Parker-Hannifin's Par-Koil, and Pro-Team's Viper Coilhose. Picking one hose from this pack is not an easy task. All of these hoses are competent at the task of delivering gas from a tank on your back to the 'gun in your hand, but none of them perfectly fulfill the promise of the expandable remote hose. Each provides a different balance of price, performance, and durability. The player has to decide what characteristics are most important to him in making a choice. While all of these hoses do share the one characteristic of being expandable coiled remote hoses, my tests have revealed many significant differences between them.
Coiled Hose Concerns
Burst and Operating Pressures
- The first, most important characteristic of any hose you plan on using in paintball is its pressure rating. Most hoses list a burst pressure (the pressure at which a new hose will fail). Some list an operating pressure as well. It is important to know the difference between the two.
The burst pressure is the experimentally determined pressure at which the hose was found to fail. This is an actual measurement, and can be compared between hoses. It is not a safe pressure to run through the hose for regular operation. As hoses age, the material with which they are made weakens. What this means is that with time and wear from regular use, a hose's burst pressure will actually decrease. It is because of this characteristic that a working or operating pressure is set for a hose.
The working pressure is an industry standard value dependent on the burst pressure. It represents a safe operating pressure. The working pressure is determined by dividing the burst pressure by some value (the safety factor) which is typically an industry standard. In the case of the types of hoses used for these coiled remote lines, the safety factor is typically four. What this means is that the working pressure for an expandible remote hose should be 1/4 of the burst pressure. Therefore, to get the most accurate determination of a hose's actual safe operating pressure, you should divide the listed burst pressure by four. Listed working pressures above this calculation should be ignored as they are potentially dangerous. This way you can get a fair comparison of the various hoses relative operating pressures.
- The most common point of failure for expandible remote hoses is at their ends where the flexible hose joins the stiff metal connectors which screw into your 'gun or remote system. Problems can occur when the hose is pulled or bent sharply to one side or the other near its end. Since the end is stiff and usually fixed in place, with no protection the hose will tend to bend or kink where it enters the coupler. When one of these hoses is bent or kinked, its strength at the point of the kink is severely compromised and the burst pressure is significantly reduced, potentiating a blow-out.
All of the hoses currently available use some form of protection for the ends to help prevent kinking at the hose-connector interface. The most common form of protection is an end-spring which wraps around the end of the connector and the beginning of the hose. The idea of the spring is to resist bending at the end of the hose and to cause it to flex over a greater length of hose to preventing kinking. Pro-Team's new hose uses a unique technique of bridging the hose-connector interface with a very tough shrink-wrap which protects the hose-end in the same way as a spring.
It is critical that the hose have a good end-protection system to ensure a long, reliable life.
Flexibility and Memory
- Unlike the common steel-braid hose, the material used in the construction of these coiled remote hoses must be flexible. If not, their coils would not easily expand.
There's another side to the flexibility issue, though: memory. "Memory" is the word I use to describe an expandible coiled hose's tendency to return to its original coiled length after having been stretched. A hose with good memory returns to its starting length quickly and consistently. A hose with poor memory will return to its starting length slowly or not at all after having been stretched.
A good hose should have both good flexibility and good memory. That is to say, it should be easy to stretch out to whatever length you need, but afterwards it should quickly collapse back to its original length.
- Resting length is the length of a hose when it is not being stretched. It is effectively the minimum coiled hose length when completely collapsed. This characteristic is important since the purpose of these hoses is to eliminate long remote lines and to allow the hose to expand to whatever length is needed. Excess rest length is not only a waste of material, but actually defeats the purpose of having a flexible hose. If the hose is long enough to reach wherever you need it without stretching, you might as well be using a stronger traditional remote hose.
For me, the perfect flexible remote hose would be as short as, or shorter than the distance between my remote tank and 'gun when held comfortably in a shooting position. This way, the hose would stay tucked in tightly against my body no matter where I held my paintgun, but would easily stretch to whatever length I needed.
The four hoses from top to bottom: Slinki, Mamba, Par-Koil, Viper Coilhose
All material at this site is © Ravi Chopra, 1999
- The Mamba has a spiral diameter of 1", a new (unstretched) resting length of 20". The packaging of the Mamba I reviewed listed a burst pressure of 3000 psi, but no working pressure. I called National Paintball Supply (the U.S. distributor of the Mamba) for current pressure rating information. I was informed that the burst pressure for the Mamba is 2400 psi, and that the working pressure is 1800 psi. Assuming that the 2400 psi burst pressure is accurate, their recommended working pressure clearly violates the 4X safety factor, and I can not recommend it be used up to that pressure. I can only recommend that it be used up to continuous pressures up to 600 psi.
The Mamba was the first coiled hose of its kind used in paintball. It was the success of the Mamba alone that drove other manufacturers to produce their own coiled remote hoses. For this, the Mamba deserves credit. Unfortunately, the Mamba has some problems not shared by other hoses.
Though the makers of the Mamba claim a 3000 psi burst pressure and N.P.S. claim that the hose can be operated safely up to 1800 psi, I've heard from a number of people who report that their Mambas split on them during use. While the Mamba I tested did not blow out during my time with it, I had limited time with it, and used a regulated power source (nitrogen) set at 750 psi (a safe operating pressure assuming a 3000 psi burst pressure). Because of this, I would recommend all Mamba users not to exceed a safe operating pressure of 600 psi to minimize the chance of a blowout. Please note that 600 psi is well below the pressures that CO2 can reach on a warm day. All people using CO2 with a Mamba SHOULD have a pressure regulator between the tank and hose set below 600 psi for safe operation.
The Mamba's ends are not the most trust-engendering of the bunch . The hose-end junction is protected by a relatively soft and small spring which did not appear to do very much to protect the ends from kinking. Most Mamba failures occur here.
The Mamba has the worst memory of all the hoses I evaluated While the Mamba has excellent flexibility, it has too much of a tendency to stay stretched out after a number of uses. I've seen players with Mambas that dangled to their knees. With that much extra length, you might as well be using steel-braid.
In use, the Mamba is a relatively comfortable hose. The smaller spiral diameter made it somewhat less intrusive than the two larger diameter hoses (Slinki & Viper). I found that the hose had too long of a resting length, though. Just about wherever I held my 'gun, the hose was under little or no tension and would hang slack at my side (and this was with a new hose that had not yet been stretched out).
Right now, the Mamba's greatest strength is its price. The influx of newer designs has forced a dramatic reduction in street prices for the Mamba such that it is now one of the least expensive coiled remote hoses available. Additionally, National Paintball Supply has informed me that they warranty the hose for one year.
For the player on a budget who can live with the weaknesses I've mentioned above, the Mamba should be considered. Players who need a more robust hose with a wider range of safe operating pressures, better ends, and better ergonomics will want to read on about the other hoses that have followed in the Mamba's wake, and have been designed so as to address the Mamba's various weaknesses.
The Slinki Hose from Paintball Mania Supplies
- Paintball Mania lists a burst pressure of 2800 psi and a correct operating pressure of 700 psi for the Slinki, their coiled remote hose. The Slinki has a spiral diameter of 1.5" , and a very short resting length of only 10"!
The Slinki's material is very stiff, but it has been designed with very thin walls, explaining the relatively low burst pressure. The advantage of these thin walls is that it allows for a very thin hose which can collapse to a very short resting length, yet which has a very large inner diameter to minimize the resistance to gas flow. The disadvantage of the stiffer material is that it has a much greater tendency to kink if it is folded or bent sharply and will suffer a much greater reduction in burst pressure if kinked. As with the Mamba, the Slinki's safe working pressure is well below the pressure of an unregulated CO2 pressure source on a warm day. When using CO2, always use a pressure regulator to ensure that the pressure through the Slinki does not exceed 700 psi.
The Slinki's greatest weakness is in its ends. PMS has employed a relatively soft, short spring to protect the ends. While it does a passable job in most situations, this wimpy spring is simply not up to the task of protecting the ends from bending under rougher paintball situations such as sliding into bunkers, catching on branches while running, or falling on the hose. Not surprisingly, every Slinki hose failure I've heard of has occurred at one of the ends. After many problems early on, PMS redesigned both the end and spring to help alleviate these problems, but the result, though considerably improved, still falls well short of the standards set by the Par-Koil and Viper. I would strongly recommend to Slinki users that they wrap something around their hose-ends to bolster end-connection strength. A bit of duct tape wrapped around the end, spring, and a bit of hose beyond would likely help considerably in extending the Slinki hose's life span.
Flexibility and memory are both strong points of the Slinki. The flexibility (by which I mean its ease of expansion) of the hose is particularly impressive. The hose expands so easily, in fact, that I've often completely forgotten that I was still tethered to the 'gun! More than once I've set my 'gun down and just walked off, only to look back to find that I'd stretched the hose out 8 feet! At that point you'd expect a hose this flexible to be permanently stretched out, but after just a couple of minutes the Slinki had returned to its original collapsed length. That was pretty extreme. In normal use, the Slinki pulls back to its original length as quickly and efficiently as the children's toy from which it takes its name.
For me, the very short rest length is the Slinki's greatest strength. At 10", no matter where you hold your paintgun, the hose is always under tension and tucked in tightly against your body. It never hangs out or hooks on nearby objects. I wish the other hose manufacturers would take a lesson from the Slinki and shorten their hoses as well.
In use, the Slinki hose is, for me, the most comfortable hose to use. Its short rest length keeps it tucked in tightly against my body while its exceptional flexibility allows it to stretch easily to wherever I need to position myself and my 'gun. During a game, the Slinki was unobtrusive almost to the point of invisibility. But its thinner hose diameter, larger spiral diameter, and easy flexibility made for a hose that has some tendency to wind up into telephone-cord-like tangles between games. And most unfortunately, its unreliable ends and lower burst pressure make it difficult for me to trust in tournament situations where all of my gear must work perfectly and reliably. On the upside, Paintball Mania has replaced or repaired the hose of every person I've met who's had a Slinki hose failure absolutely free-of-charge. I know of no other company with so generous a policy.
The Par-Koil from Parker-Hannifin
- Parker-Hannifin lists an official burst pressure of 3200 psi and a safe operating pressure of 800 psi for the Par-Koil. The Par-Koil has a coil-diameter of 1" and a resting length of 34".
The Par-Koil is a very strong hose. The hose is thick-walled and tough as nails. Its burst and operating pressures humble those of both the Mamba and Slinki. In fact, Parker-Hannison claims that the hose is safe to use with an unregulated CO2 gas source. While the listed operating pressure of 800 psi would seem to indicate that unregulated CO2 (which can significantly exceed 1000 psi on a hot day) should not be used with the Par-Koil, Parker informed me that the officially listed burst pressure is extremely conservative, and that unregulated CO2 is safe to use with the Par-Koil.
The Par-Koil's ends are quite impressive as well. Long and beefy springs protect the hose-end junction from sharp kinks that could weaken the hose. Some have postulated that the rather stiff end-springs may just move the kink point from the hose-end junction out to the end of the spring. My own tests showed that this was not the case, though. When I intentionally tried to kink the Par-Koil by bending it sharply near the end, I found that the spring effectively spread the bend over a length of hose rather than allowing it to kink at any one point. This spring should be effective in protecting the hose against end-kinks in all but the most extreme situations.
The Par-Koil appears to trade off flexibility for of durability and memory. This hose is twisted into a very tight coil that does expand anywhere near as easily as the other hoses I tested. The counterpoint to this is that it always returns to its rest length with impressive force. Perhaps it is fortunate that the Par-Koil has the very long rest length that it does. Were it not so long, constantly having to fight the heavy tension inherent in the hose would become very annoying or fatigueing. While I applaud Parker's desire to build an extremely durable hose, I find these characteristics to be decidedly counter to the purpose of an expandable hose.
In use, the Par-Koil feels rather similar to the Mamba due to their similar rest lengths and coil diameters. Like the Mamba, it dangled loose at my side almost no matter where I held my paintgun. On the other hand, the Par-Koil's durability is extremely impressive. For people who are looking for durability and who don't mind the long rest length and stiff coil, the Par-Koil should be a serious consideration.
The Viper Coilhose from Pro-Team Products
- The packaging of Pro-Team's Viper Coilhose currently lists a working pressure of 800 psi. Forest Hatcher (president of Pro-Team Products) has recently informed me that the Viper Coilhose has actually been rated to operate safely up to 1000 psi and future packaging will reflect this. Pro-Team requested that I not reveal the actual measured burst pressure of the hose, but I can assure you that 1000 psi is safely within the 4X safety factor (the burst pressure is over 4000 psi). The Viper has a coil diameter of 1.25" and a resting length of 26".
The Viper Coilhose is an extremely strong hose, on par with the Par-Koil. With a company-sanctioned working pressure of 1000 psi, the Viper has the highest safe continuous pressure rating of all the hoses I evalulated. Pro-Team considers the Viper Coilhose to be safe with unregulated CO2, but urges extra caution with its use. Specifically, unregulated CO2 should not be fed through the Viper in conditions where temperatures could exceed 120 degrees Farenheit.
As impressive as the Viper's burst and working pressures are, its ends are even more so. The Viper uses a tough shrink-wrap to enclose the hose-end junction and protect it from kinking. This material stiffens the whole assembly over the area it covers and does as good a job (if not a better job) of protecting the ends from kinks as the Par-Koil's stiff springs. Unlike the springs, the wrap can not be pulled off the ends to expose them to kinking. Most impressive is the fact that even if the hose did kink and blow out at the hose-end junction, the wrap holds the hose end in place, preventing it from whipping around dangerously.
While the Viper Coilhose shares the Par-Koils impressive strength, it manages to do so without sacrificing flexibility. While it does not stretch out as effortlessly as the Slinki, the tension generated in expanding the Viper is neither bothersome nor intrusive. Additionally, though the Viper I have has been used quite extensively, it shows no signs of permanent stretch; that is to say, its memory is excellent.
My only real complaint about the Viper Coilhose is the same one as for the Mamba and the Par-Koil. The hose is considerably longer than it needs to be and dangles loose at my side in use. I find this particularly annoying because the hose has such impressive flexibilty and memory. If this hose had 1/2 or 2/3 of its current rest length, it would have all of the Slinki's comfort advantages in a much more durable, high-performance package. As it is, the advantages in the Viper's construction go largely unnoticed as a result of its unnecessary added length.
In use, the Viper Coilhose is superb. Its exceptionally high working pressure allows you to run your gear over a very wide range (important for some players who run high-pressure 'guns). The end construction allows you to play a worry-free game even with a rough-and-tumble playing style. And while the dangling stock length bothered me at first, I found that if I turned 1/2 of the hose's length into a loop and twist-tied it in place the Viper stayed tucked in tightly against my side while easily expanding and collapsing to whatever length I needed.
NOTE: The Viper Coilhose has gone through several changes since it was first released. The first version of the hose actually had spring end-protectors and a unique junction that favored flexing of the hose rather than kinking. The second version of the hose is the natural (white) colored hose in the photos with the wrapped ends. The latest version is essentially the same as the second, but it now comes as a black hose, has the Viper logo printed on the wrapped ends, and is slightly shorter. Currently, the Viper is available in several configurations: bare hose, hose with nickle-plated ends, hose with expansion chamber, and hose with pressure-regulator. As a pro-series product from Pro-Team, the Viper Coilhose comes with a warranty wherein they will repair or replace any damaged Viper for $20.