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

NRS Aquablaster

NRS Aquablaster, $14.95 From the increasingly popular class of water cannons, this weapon uses the same properties as a syringe. Immerse the tip into liquid and draw fluid into the chamber with suction created by pulling out the internal tube. Launch a thick jet of water by compressing the tube back into the chamber. For a weapon operating on such a simple premise, you'd expect the Aquablaster to be easier to use. But you have to get the angle just so to cleanly draw water into the tube using both hands, and then you must quickly upright it to prevent precious ammo from spilling out. When you do fire the blaster, it delivers a devastating surge: Our live target staggered backward from the impact. That blast will expend your payload, though, so constant access to ammo—in the form of a full bucket—is a must. (Aquablasters are a favorite among canoeists and kayakers because the surrounding water is a limitless ammunition supply—they even use it to bail water out of their watercrafts.)

Strength: 8
Ease of use: 4
Fun: 3
Total: 15

Super Soaker Aquashock Sneak Attack

Super Soaker Aquashock Sneak Attack, $11.99 Hasbro dominates a huge share of the water-gun market, and deservedly so: It took them to the next level with pump-action technology in the late 1980s. While seasoned veterans wax nostalgic for earlier generations of Super Soakers, the Sneak Attack still represents all that is admirable about the company's weapons: powerful stream, easy to fire, ergonomic, lightweight, durable. And this year's Aquashock line of armaments features impressive novelties.

What's so sneaky about the Sneak Attack? Of its four firing modes, two shoot 90 degrees to the left or right of the barrel—perfect for hitting an unsuspecting bystander or firing around a corner. The other two settings are a narrow, long-range stream and a close-range buckshot-style spray. Like all Super Soakers, it performs as advertised: Your target indeed gets soaked. The Sneak Attack has decent range—26 feet—and an adequate payload—38 powerful rounds. While it's great that the Sneak Attack fires instantly with each pump of its forestock, that action forces the shooter to always use two hands—a major drawback. Like most new Super Soakers, it features a spring-activated quick-load valve, so you don't have to screw the cap on and off. Simply press the valve up against a faucet mouth and let the ammo gush in.

Strength: 7
Ease of use: 8
Fun: 4
Total: 19

Stream Machine Double-Barrel Water Launcher

Stream Machine Double-Barrel Water Launcher, $17.95 Also a syringe-style water cannon, this Stream Machine's twin-barrel design (they also come in single-barrel models) doubles the volume of your assault. We drenched our live target and sent him reeling. It still has the problem of using up too much of its 20-ounce ammo supply too quickly, however, so it's good for only five shots per barrel.

As with the Aquablaster, drawing water into the Stream Machine's tubes without spilling is harder than it would seem. And it's common for one barrel to fill with more than the other, so you end up shooting uneven streams. But the two gunlike grips make handling the Stream Machine simple and enable you to put some muscle into the compression, giving it gravity-defying range. We launched a 40-foot stream, farther than with any other model.

Strength: 10
Ease of use: 6
Fun: 4
Total: 20

Super Soaker Aquashock Arctic Blast

Super Soaker Aquashock Arctic Blast, $19.99 As if being a powerful, high-capacity weapon weren't enough, this gun introduces a new variable: temperature! The extra-wide mouth on the Arctic Blast's voluminous ammo tank lets you load nearly a dozen ice cubes, giving your victims a dose of shock and shiver.

But the Arctic Blast is a high-performance weapon even when its ammo is ice-free. The main setting fires an immensely strong stream that reaches 28 feet and delivers a bracing sting. The top-mounted Flash Flood trigger ejects a wild splosh, ideal for close-range emergencies. In traditional Super Soaker fashion, you lock and load by pumping air into the reservoir and releasing the trigger. (The pump handle doesn't have the most ergonomic grip, so it can leave your hand and wrist a little fatigued.) The 38-ounce, bottom-mounted tank reloads as easily from the bathroom taps as it does from the backyard spigot. A full magazine produces a formidable 79 rounds, though the added weight from all that water makes it hard to maintain steady aim when shooting one-handed.

Strength: 8
Ease of use: 8
Fun: 5
Total: 21

Water Warriors Tarantula

Water Warriors Tarantula, $14.99 Packing a gun this well-designed almost feels like cheating. The secret of this weapon is an electrical motor that does all the work: Pull the trigger and it continuously fires a powerful stream until its generous 47-ounce tank has been emptied. Its 33-foot, sniperlike reach was the second strongest we measured, and you're guaranteed well over 100 rounds from a full magazine. Its only flaw is that once the rechargeable battery pack is drained, you're a sitting duck. But the battery will last at least three full reloads and is easily replenished (charger included), so you can fight another day. Enemies may attempt to exploit the gun's weakness by dousing its electronics—say, with a water-balloon attack—but a couple of strips of electrical tape around the battery hatch will make the Tarantula impervious to such plots. Its overdone space-age styling may seem a tad embarrassing, but its performance on the battlefield will teach your enemies to show some respect. Strength: 9
Ease of use: 10
Fun: 4
Total: 23

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