Poppet vs Spool: which paintball gun bolt system should you buy?

poppet vs spool

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Paintball is a sport that demands precision, speed, and adaptability, and your choice of paintball gun can make all the difference. The bolt system, in particular, plays a crucial role in how your marker functions and performs on the field. Among the various options available, the Poppet and Spool designs stand out as two of the most popular and debated choices.

In today’s article, we will discuss the difference between poppet valve and spool valve paintball guns. Poppet and spool markers have different setups and operate very differently, but is one design really any better than the other?

The difference in overall performance between poppet and spool paintball guns is pretty marginal. Yes, there are some big differences in how they operate, but it doesn’t impact the overall performance as much as you might think.

Switching from one type of marker to the other is not going to magically make you a better paintball player. If you’re not very good with a spool, you’re probably not going to be good with a poppet. And vice versa. Just remember, it is a poor carpenter who blames his tools.

Don’t get us wrong, there are definitely some advantages and disadvantages to each type of marker, and most people have a preference, but there’s no clear cut winner as to which one is better. There are professional paintball teams that use spool markers, and there are professional teams that use poppet markers.

There are even championship winning teams that have switched back and forth and continued to dominate! If it doesn’t impact them professionally, should you really be concerned about which can perform better?

We think you should be less concerned about poppet vs spool and more concerned with the overall key features, design, and performance of the marker. Don’t ever buy a marker just because it is a spool or poppet.

All that said, we still want to teach you the differences between the two. They each have their own benefits and drawbacks, and depending on your paintball gameplay, one type might be more beneficial than the other.

Poppet or spool is certainly a factor you should consider when shopping for a marker, just don’t let it be the factor.

how does air flow through a paintball gun?

Paintball guns are pretty complex and technical tools that need precision to operate correctly. But the basic process of how a paintball round is fired is pretty simple. Compressed air acts as an agent to initiate the firing process of pushing a paintball round down and out the barrel at a high velocity.

If you’re a paintball nerd like us and want to learn more about airflow through a marker, one of the most remarkable resources on the internet is a website that animates how the air flows through just about every paintball gun available on the market.

How can you tell the difference Poppet vs Spool valve?

Both spool and poppet paintball guns can shoot good, strong and accurate shots. But as we said earlier, the process each type uses to achieve these results is very different. Let’s start with how spool valve paintball guns operate.

At the very basics, spool valve markers use a bolt that slides forward, shoots the round down the barrel, and then the bolt slides back. As the bolt is sliding forward, the air is dumped through it. The bolt doesn’t hit anything because no ram/hammer hitting the poppet. Instead of using a typical valve, they have an air reservoir inside that is released as the bolt goes forward.

It is a straightforward process because no other air valves need to get hit and opened. The bolt slides forward from the back to the front of the breach, and the o-ring on the bolt slides over another o-ring, dumping the air out of the gun.


A poppet valve has a slightly more complex process. Well, not complex as much as there is just another step in the process. Poppets use a spring or pneumatic-powered hammer to “open” a valve that releases the pressurized air that fires the round. Need more details?

A poppet valve paintball gun’s bolt acts as a hammer and slides forward to the point where it strikes/collides with a pin at the end. Once the hammer hits the pin on the valve, it opens the valve and releases the air.

Poppet valve markers require two pieces of metal to collide in order to open the valve, which is why they tend to have slight kickback. The slight kickback you feel is the two pieces of metal colliding and the force reverberating throughout the marker. Don’t worry though, it’s usually not even noticeable while you’re playing.

Spool valve paintball guns

Two of the most significant of spool markers are that they are very quiet and have little to no noticeable kickback. Because of this, they are a little more gentle on paint than poppets.

However, there’s a reason they are quieter and have less kickback: they use much more air. Because they are much less efficient with HPA, you will go through the air much quicker with a spool gun.

Additionally, spool valve markers have more O-rings and as a result, there is more O-ring surface area and metal touching metal. This isn’t a problem by itself, but it does mean if you have a spool marker, you are going to have to be more vigilant in regards to maintenance regarding the O-rings.

Lastly, spool guns require more lube and can be sensitive about how much and the quality of lube. It’s a fine line between not enough lube and too much lube in a spool marker. After all, if you use too much lube, it’s only going to end up in your barrel and cause inaccuracy.

If you really want a quiet paintball gun with little to no kickback, you should probably be looking for a spool valve marker. However, the tradeoff is going to be that your marker will be less efficient with its HPA use and you will have to keep a closer eye on how your O-rings are holding up.

What are some good spool manufacturers? Dye, Eclipse

Poppet valve paintball guns

Let’s change it up and start with the drawbacks of a poppet-valve paintball marker first. The two most noticeable disadvantages are that they are slightly louder and have a little kickback.

But guess what the advantages are of being a little louder with some kickback? They are much more efficient with the use of HPA. All else equal, you will get more shots from a poppet than from a spool. Maybe that’s not a big deal to you though.

Spool markers should be lighter than their poppet counterparts, but that is not always true. Poppet-valve paintball guns have almost no first-shot drop-off.

Another benefit of poppet valve paintball guns is that they have fewer O-rings, and the O-rings they do have are usually smaller. This means there is less O-ring surface area and should lead to way less O-ring maintenance. We are always in favor of anything that leads to less required maintenance.


When it comes to preventative maintenance, you are also less likely to over-lube with a poppet marker. Why? Because they are much less sensitive to lube and require less.

Poppet guns: Empire Paintball, Tippmann

Spool vs Poppet: what features do you prefer?

  • Spool
    • Advantages: quieter, little to no kickback for a smoother shot, lighter
    • Disadvantages: not efficient with use of HPA, more O-ring maintenance, more lube sensitive
  • Poppet
    • Advantages: more efficient with use of HPA, easier maintenance because of less O-rings
    • Disadvantages: louder, slight kickback, heavier (although some people actually prefer a little more weight)

So which is it? Are poppet or spool markers better?

Neither paintball gun design is inherently better than the other. There are benefits and drawbacks to each type of bolt system, but this has more to do with personal preferences than overall performance. Like we said earlier, switching from a poppet to a spool or vice versa will remain the same as how good of a paintball player you are.

There are good spool markers, and there are bad spool markers. Just like there are good poppet markers and there are bad poppet markers. So don’t limit yourself to just one type of bolt system. Focus on finding a well-reviewed, well-built marker that has all the features you need, regardless of whether or not it is a poppet or a spool.

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