Article written by Galen Adams (General Manager). I've been playing in the woods and out for fun and competition since 1997.
A good barrel should be the very first upgrade you do on almost every paintball gun. There are a few guns that already come with upgraded barrels but for the most part, the stock barrel that comes with a gun is not very good. In short, paintball gun manufacturers make guns, not barrels. They put their time and expertise in to those guns. Their barrels get the ball down range but that's about it. A good barrel, more than any other upgrade, will make an immediate difference in the performance of your paintball gun and your game play. Sure, you could upgrade your rate of fire, but being able to shoot twice as fast means nothing if you still can't hit what you're aiming at.
This article should help 90% of players find what they want. If you browse our barrel pages you'll see there are many other options for cosmetic barrels, tactical barrels, multi piece barrels and kits, etc. These are all good choices too but as a first upgrade to my first paintball gun I'd go for performance because in paintball, shooting your opponent is much more fun than being shot, regardless of how you look.
Paintball Barrel Buying Guide By Barrel Type
Straight One-Piece Barrels
Most every barrel out there is some variation of a straight barrel. They are supposed to make your gun more accurate by being made to tighter tolerances and having better designs than a stock paintball barrel. There are, however, aftermarket barrels that are no good. Just like any other product there are good ones and bad ones. Some are gimmicky and some are true works of art. There are many variations of the straight on-piece barrel but we'll get in to that in another article. For now we'll just mention that the Lapco 14" Big Shot Barrel is one of our favorites. They're incredibly well made to exacting tolerances. They were scientifically designed and have out performed all others on various accuracy contests over the years. And bonus, they're not too expensive. A bit cheaper but still very nice would be the Custom Products One-Piece Barrels. You can get cheaper and more expensive barrels but you won't find anything more accurate than that Lapco and you can't beat the accuracy to price value of the Custom Products One-Piece.
Multi Piece Barrels
These are straight barrels, but with a two piece design. They CAN be the most accurate barrel. You can change the internal diameter size to match the paintball size. We are still talking about .68 caliber, but the .001 will make a difference on how efficiently the air is used to push the ball and how evenly the ball travels down the barrel. The front "tip" can come in varying lengths but length has no effect on accuracy. Shorter barrels are easier to maneuver and longer barrels are easier to manipulate bunkers with. (The more brush you can stick it through, or more of an angle you can push into inflatable bunker.) Choose what suits your preference. The rear or "back" of a multi piece system can come in multiple internal diameters. The sizes vary kit to kit, but the variety of sizes is what you use to match the diameter of the paintballs. To match a specific size you will test a few balls from the center of a bag of paintballs. If the ball rolls through the back then it's too big. If you can't blow it through it's to small. How tight is again a little bit of personal preference. Tighter is more efficient but one odd sized or out of round ball and you could get a barrel break. It's best to allow for a little variance. With a full kit you have to ability to match a greater selection of paintballs. You can also start a kit with a single back and tip and build as you need. This can be cheaper than buying multiple complete barrels of different sizes. Kit options are about the same as for one piece straight barrels. Lapco and J&J make good kits. The TechT iFit is a great system that can be used with any thread matching barrel as the tip.
Long Range Barrels
There are only 2. The Tippmann Flatline and the Empire BT Apex. Both change the trajectory of the ball by creating a backspin on the ball like a slider in baseball. This causes the ball to skim along a flatter trajectory for a longer shot. This backspin does cause some accuracy issues though. Because there is movement up and down during flight it's harder to be consistently accurate. Also, any tilting to the right or left of your gun will cause the ball to pull right or left because of the spin. So these range barrels are great for that extra range (extra 100ft or so) and you can hit people that can't even come close to you BUT you do sacrifice some accuracy. Additional article about Effective Range (ER).
So what if you could get both the range and the accuracy? Well you can't combine both of these at the exact same time but you can almost get the best of both worlds. Many barrels are now available in an Apex Ready version or with an interchangeable tip/adapter that lets you add an Apex barrel tip to a straight barrel. The Apex tips are unique in that the manner in which they induce the back spin on the ball can be turned on and off with a switch on the tip. So by putting an Apex tip on one of the highly accurate barrels mentioned above you end up with almost the perfect barrel. At long range you can have the Apex engaged giving you the ability to reach out and touch someone. When the fire fight gets a little closer you can turn the back spin off and you're left with the excellent accuracy of a good straight barrel. Both the Lapco Big Shots and the Custom Product barrels can be configured this way.
Paintball Barrel Buying Guide By Barrel Length
12" to 16" is what you're looking for. Much longer and you start to get too much resistance from the barrel making them inefficient. Too short and the barrels are loud, they don't stabilize the ball before it exits, and they're less efficient because the ball doesn't have time to accelerate to full speed.
LAPCO barrels are 100% made and assembled in Valencia, California, USA since 1987. LAPCO took barrel manufacturing to a scientific level and found the keys to paintball barrel accuracy were a precision interior finish, the size of the bore, cylindricity, and concentricity.
TiPX : The TiPX does use A5 threaded barrels, but the barrel must have a minimum length of 7 inches to clear the body and in that 7 inches it must have a maximum outside diameter of 0.88 inches to fit within the body.