Scouting out the best water guns.

How to be the best consumer you can be.
July 10 2007 6:30 AM

Top Gun

The best weapon for water wars.

Remember those tiny, translucent-plastic squirt guns you ran around with as a kid? Filling them from the kitchen faucet and spattering your buddies from a foot away, you'd score maybe three direct "hits." Any wounds could be treated with a few sheets of Bounty.

Today's water-propulsion technology leaves those brittle pistols in the mud. A piece of weaponry that launches a 20-ounce surge in a mere second or maintains a 30-foot stream is hardly a "squirt" gun. I'm not sure they even deserve to be called toys. They go by names like soakers, blasters, and cannons. These are nothing less than implements of modern (water) warfare.

Chad Lorenz Chad Lorenz

Chad Lorenz is Slate's news editor. He has written for the Washington Post and the Washingtonian.

If you're looking for the right sidearm to lead a platoon of your buddies into combat this summer—or if you just need to fend off the nasty neighborhood boys—we've got you covered. We subjected seven of the most impressive water-gun models on the market to a battery of tests at our proving grounds to determine your weapon of choice.

Methodology

Strength (10 possible points). Which gun fires the longest, the hardest, and the farthest? Which will leave your target sopping wet? We conducted three tests to evaluate strength. First we tested payload by counting how many rounds a shooter could fire with one full magazine. Then we tested range by measuring the distance a shot could travel. Lastly, we tested each gun's sheer firepower by shooting live targets and gauging the size of the water mark and the victim's reaction.

Ease of Use (10 possible points). In the heat of battle, seconds count, so there's no time for futzing with a gun that's slow to lock and load. Nor do you want to fumble with an awkward apparatus that requires two hands or risks backfiring. Clean, efficient shooting was the ideal here.

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Fun factor (5 possible points). Even a battle-hardened warrior wants a weapon that provides kills and thrills. Does the gun make you feel like Rambo or like a rent-a-cop at the mall? Slick styling and novel features also figure in heavily here—you want to earn the envy of your fellow troops.

The results, from Soviet-era junk to models for a modern major general:

Banzai Turbo X Spin Blaster

Banzai Turbo X Spin Blaster, $9.89 The Spin Blaster features three barrels that turn and fire as you crank—a cool concept, but it was the weakest gun we tried. A crank is a lousy way to generate water pressure, and the jerky action makes the gun nearly impossible to keep steady, severely impeding aim. While its 21-round payload from each barrel isn't bad, its pathetic stream sprayed a mere 16 feet. Worse, after a few cranks, our live target was only damp. Not to mention you look ridiculous cranking a small, two-handed gun—the silly clicking noise only serves as a reminder that you're using a toy. And good luck trying to reload this puppy while under fire: Its reservoir has a tiny opening, and the handle makes it too tall to fill at your typical bathroom faucet.

Strength: 3 (out of 10)
Ease of use: 2 (out of 10)
Fun: 1 (out of 5)
Total: 6 (out of 25)

Water Warriors Hornet

Water Warriors Hornet, $4.99 This little bug has some sting: It fired 22 feet with strong impact. The Hornet uses a classic slide-action pump to build pressure in the reservoir and a trigger to release the water. While it takes several seconds to lock and load, once ready, you can release a constant stream—with only one hand. The stream is pretty narrow, though—its target only got damp—and the 14-ounce tank requires frequent reloading.

This gun's real advantage is its portability and concealability. It's an effective weapon to tuck into your waistband and whip out for a surprise attack. Of all guns tested, the shape and size of the Hornet makes it most suited to little cadets. While the ray-gun styling is a bit cheesy, your enemy won't be laughing after feeling its zap square in the chest.

Strength: 4
Ease of use: 7
Fun: 2
Total: 13

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