Hills v FX Pumps
With a spring-powered rifle, the power source is obviously self contained, as the gun generates its own energy via the piston action. With a pre-charged pneumatics PCP, this freedom is lost, replaced by dependence on an external air supply.
I reluctantly jumped on the PCP bandwagon, once it became clear that this was the way to go for top flight competition, so investment in diving cylinders and all the paraphernalia soon followed. After literally giving myself a hernia, lifting a huge 15litre tank, however, I began to reconsider whether I really wanted the extra hassle of air bottle filling, storage, and eventual safety testing. With many shooters lacking a nearby diving shop or industrial gas bottle filling station, it can also be a problem sourcing compressed air. But dedicated air-rifle pumps can address these problems, and restore the independence of the shooter at a stroke… or rather quite a few strokes. So let’s take a look at the two main brands on the market, and see how they shape up.
Hills v FX
As with many products in the shooting market, much cross branding goes on, with companies marketing various ‘stirrup’ pumps as their own, when in fact they are exactly the same as some other differently badged products. The two manufacturers actually responsible for most manual air pumps on the market are Hills of Sheffield in the UK, and FX Airguns, of Sweden. I’ve actually got three different models on test here, as FX Airguns have recently launched a new upgraded option, which involves a gearing system that is supposed to make the strokes easier -more of which later.
I’m familiar with the Hills pump since I regularly use one of these models myself, and the quality is, I have to say, superb. Hills have quite a track record in pump production, making models for a variety of uses in other industries; but their entry into the airgun market with a dedicated pump, some years ago, has earned them respect for the build quality alone. ‘Heavy duty’ is a perfect description of their efforts, and all the components are reassuringly chunky.
All these pumps are supplied as ‘flat-packs’ in effect, but since there are only 3 main constituent parts, it’s hardly the Krypton factor to assemble it all. A few years back, Hills took the decision to supply their pump with a ‘take-down’ design, which sees the rubber coated pump handle simply screw onto the main pump body via a huge thread; whilst the base is just pushed into place and a large knurled locking ring spun tight. The air hose is then screwed into place and tightened if necessary with spanners. This design is intended to make the pump portable and easily assembled in the field. In practise, most pumping is preferably carried out indoors to minimize moisture content in the air, but several shooters, in my experience, still use their pumps outdoors in the elements. The FX versions are also simple to assemble, with two Allen bolts to hold the base in place, and the air hose - this time a micro bore variety, again screwed into position.
Moisture is an issue with stirrup pumps, and whereas compressed air from a diver’s bottle is predominantly dry, a pump takes in air from the surrounding atmosphere- which obviously has some moisture content. How the pump deals with this problem is therefore of interest.
FX include a particle filter and moisture trap in their models, but as for the long-term effectiveness of such features, only time will tell. Hills offer an optional ‘Dry-pac’ pod which screws onto the main pump body. This is then filled with a medium (like mustard seeds in appearance), which apparently removes up to 90% of moisture as the air passes through. The medium is ideally replaced every few months, and whilst I lack the scientific equipment to measure the moisture levels, (and therefore Hill’s percentage claim) there’s no doubt that this system offers a welcome and reassuring additional line of defence.
Some moisture will inevitably get through with both these designs, and at the end of the day, inspecting the rifles cylinder for signs of corrosion, whilst a service is undertaken, for example, has to be good practise. Another good tip is to bleed the air trapped in the hose quickly, rather than let it trickle out. This helps to expel moisture from the system.
The initial performance test required the three pumps to charge an Air Arms s400 Classic from a residual pressure of 100bar, up to 170bar with the following results:
* Hills pump- 76pumps needed in total; reasonable effort
* FX 4-stage pump- 80pumps needed in total; 49 pumps to get to 150bar, then 31 easier pumps up to 170bar
* FX standard pump- 92pumps needed in total.
The second part of the test required all three pumps to charge a regulated s400 with a larger custom cylinder on-board, from 100bar up to 200bar, with the following results:
* Hills pump- 84pumps to 150bar, and 134pumps in total to reach 200bar
* FX 4-Stage pump- 75pumps to 150bar, and 158pumps in total to reach 200bar
* FX standard pump- 84pumps to 150bar, and 162pumps in total to reach 200bar.
Conclusion: Technique is everything, and I found the slightly more sturdy Hills perfectly manageable and fairly efficient; especially when just topping up in this situation. The standard FX pump, whilst the strokes are slightly easier than the Hills, takes its toll in the latter stages, as a greater number of strokes are required to reach the same pressure level.
The new 4-Stage pump from FX uses an intriguing idea of ‘gearing’ via a stage switch. This takes the form of a bleed button between the handles. The switch is left open to start, then once 150 bar has been reached, the switch is closed and subsequent pumping is then easier at the higher end of the cycle. In practise, whilst the latter pumps are easier than the Hills, the fact that a greater number of strokes are required means, in my experience, roughly the same effort is expended.
Why the body of the FX 4-stage pump is printed with 270bar on the handle, I’m not entirely sure, since the gauge only goes up to 250bar.
This curious fact apart, unless budget constraints dictate otherwise, I would say it comes down to a choice between the Hills and the 4-Stage FX with both being well up to the task. I can only personally vouch for the long-term reliability of the Hills, and with that Dry-pac system installed, it’s undoubtedly an impressive piece of kit. Failure to replace the medium, however, renders the ‘Dry-pac’ rather pointless. When was mine last changed?… erm, a good point…
Prices are approximately as follows:
* Hills Pump inc hose and gauge- £150
- Dry-pac add - £45
* FX 4-Stage inc hose &gauge - £159
* FX Standard Pump (inc H& G) - £129
All Prices Are Guides Due to the Changes in US & European Exchange Rates