By: Tony B.
Based on an e-mail by: Tony B.
First, I direct you to www.isoaker.com, where you will find more information about soakers, past and present than you ever thought existed. Bob (iSoaker, himself) has statistics, reviews, and photos for virtually every Super Soaker model including units that are no longer in production (but still available in stores and online). It's a cool site as well, with excellent use of Flash, and even a picture of yours truly (if you look hard enough). Additionally, it serves as proof that I am not alone in this particular obsession...
As for where to shop, kbtoys.com has good online prices and some good out-of-production soakers that are no longer available in stores. Locally, try Toys-R-Us, KayBee, and Target. Walmart also has some, though not as extensive a selection. For a first blaster you need something effective so stay away from the gimmicky ones, like the Backfire, the 1-3-5, and anything associated with WWF or Star Wars. Pay particular attention to whether or not the soaker in question can be filled from a tap or if it REQUIRES a QFD (quick fill device) - some can use both and are the most versatile. The advantage of the QFD dependant units is that you don't have to pump them, but if there is no QFD available, you can't refill them either. Bummer.
Don't make the mistake of thinking that the biggest is the best - The Monsters (X and XL) are virtually worthless unless in the hands of an experienced specialist (and they weigh a ton). They shoot huge volumes of water, but require LOTS of pumping and they are unwieldy to carry any distance. If the HUGE first shot misses, then you are helpless while pumping...
Tech overview (talk the talk):
XP (eXtra Power) units rely on compressed air (which you provide by pumping) to force the water out. Not bad, but limited in range and power. The stream will peter out towards the end of your pressure charge, and these units are sensitive to firing angle.
SC (SuperCharger) do not require pumping; they typically (not all) use CPS technology and require an active QFD.
CPS (Constant Pressure System) is the newer technology, and whether pumped or QFD-charged, these contain a tough internal rubber bladder, that expands (internally) with the charge. The water is forced out at impressive pressure (and volume) by the bladder returning to its original shape (picture a balloon forcing the air out as you release the stem). The power remains constant until the bladder has expended its charge (ergo the CPS designation). Some of these are so powerful they actually recoil (kick) when fired. Kewl.
Recommendations (walk the walk):
Absolute Minimum: XP310 - very light, good power/weight ratio - won't stand up to the CPS weapons very well, but good for light skirmishes and hit'n'run. Easily concealed for sneak attacks. Needs to be refilled frequently due to small capacity. DON'T waste your time on anything smaller than this (except as a backup soaker).
Worth considering: CPS 2700 - hideous looking and awkward nozzle selection, they at least improved the color combination this year (gray/yellow instead of red/yellow). This has good range, power, and capacity. Be prepared to pump though. Looks a bit fragile too.
Preferred blasters: CPS 1200 - Light, powerful, with a good reservoir capacity. Nice balance of power vs. weight.
SplashZooka - This is a new SC unit and MUST be filled by QFD. On the plus side: once full, you have 65 ounces of no-pump soaking. Good range and power, but a bit unbalanced and no carrying strap (what were they thinking?). Since you don't have to pump, you could conceivably use one in each hand...
SC PowerPack - an older backpack unit that does not require pumping (SC series) but requires a QFD for filling. Out of production for about a year, they are still available online and at some KayBee stores. One of my favorites (I use two at once). Excellent power to weight ratio and 4 nozzles in a very pointable hand-blaster (only 3 are useful though).
Good luck finding one (but worth the effort): CPS 1500 or CPS 1700; it's arguably the best of the self contained CPS series. It was discontinued last year, but I was able to find one in one of the local Toys-R-Us. I got their last one after searching 6 other stores for this beauty. They are still available online at kbtoys.com for a reasonable price. Very powerful, two nozzle selections, with a good capacity and not terribly demanding in pumping requirements. A bit heavy for smaller people, but the strap and handle help a lot. My girlfriend uses a CPS1500, which is the same soaker in all respects except color.
For the adventurous: CPS3200 - this is a backpack unit that requires a lot of pumping... but that's because the pack holds 2 gallons - you will not run dry before your arm is jelly from pumping. The separate rifle portion connects to the pack by a 4' removable hose (which can also be used to QFD fill the pack, or you can fill it normally through the two filling caps). 4 nozzles, VERY intimidating, with excellent power, range and capacity (none hold more). The pack is heavy, but manageable, and gets lighter as you shoot. Another of my favorites (I use one WITH the 2 SC PowerPack units - it's tough to get up after filling).
Monster 2001 (not to be confused with last year's monster, which is now the Monster X) - I haven't seen this one in person, but all by accounts it is the most practical of the Monster series, and probably similar to the 1500/1700 units in performance, except it provides SC (QFD) filling as well as the standard fill-cap reservoir. Multi nozzled (for variety), and nasty looking, I want one of these for my collection; haven't seen one locally yet, though.