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Best CO2 Inflators 2022 - portable little boosts to get you out of trouble

A row of the best co2 inflators on a table
(Image credit: Will Jones)

The best CO2 inflators are ultra-portable, lightweight, and easy to use. They comprise an inflator head, which either screws or presses onto your valve and allows some level of modulation of gas flow, and the CO2 cartridge itself, which screws into the head when needed. Some have additional features such as pressure gauges, and many will come with a protective sleeve as, thanks to the Joule-Thomson effect whereby gasses forced through a small aperture will cool, both the head and canister can ice up with extended use.

There are pros and cons of using CO2 inflators, both from a performance standpoint and an environmental one, so if you’d prefer to avoid single use cartridges then check out our guide to the best bike pumps. While they may not be to everyone's taste they can inflate the best road bike tyres extremely quickly, making them ideal for competitive environments, and winter use when you’d rather not spend ages pumping in the cold by the roadside. They can reach higher pressures than most mini pumps, so if you’re running tyres that are difficult to seat following a puncture then they may be a better fit for you. For the best gravel tyres too there are higher capacity cartridges, so worry not.

There are plenty of options out there on the market, and so it can be difficult to know what you’re looking for, particularly if you’ve never used one before. Worry not; we’ve not only tested all the inflators on this list to make sure they work well, can modulate pressure, don’t leak, and protect your fingers, we’ve also put together a guide at the bottom of the page to help you make an informed decision.

The best CO2 inflators 

(Image credit: Will Jones)

Topeak Micro Air Booster

The best CO2 inflator for different valve types

Specifications

Weight (without cartridge): 27.7g
Modulation: Pressure
Safety Spacer: Yes
Protective Sleeve: Yes
Gas Included: Yes
Valve Type: Presta, Schrader

Reasons to buy

+
Multiple valve types
+
Well machined
+
Decent sleeve

Reasons to avoid

-
Slow gas delivery

The Topeak Micro Air Booster is an extremely slimline, well machined option. It’s an inline style inflator, with modulation adjusted by how hard you press it into the valve. The inclusion of a safety spacer to allow the whole system to be stored together is a good thing in our opinion, as is the valve head which can accommodate both presta valves (by a simple press-on), and schrader (by screwing on). We found the protective sleeve to be very well insulating against the cold, though a little prone to slipping. Canisters screw in without leaks, though if you over tighten the cartridge you can block the flow, so we found it best to screw it all the way in and then back off by 1/8th of a turn or so.

The gas delivery modulation wasn’t brilliant, but the flow was on the slower side compared to others so it’s easy enough to avoid overshooting. It was also not that prone to icing up.

(Image credit: Will Jones)

Topeak Airbooster G2

The best CO2 inflator for accurate pressure

Specifications

Weight (without cartridge): 54.7g
Modulation: Pressure
Safety Spacer: Yes
Protective Sleeve: No
Gas Included: No
Valve Type: Presta, Schrader

Reasons to buy

+
Large, easy to read pressure dial
+
Speedy gas delivery
+
Can be used as a portable standalone tyre pressure gauge

Reasons to avoid

-
Modulation not great
-
Confusing ports

One issue with CO2 inflators is you have no idea what pressure you end up with, unless you have hyper-accurate thumbs. The Topeak Airbooster G2 is by some margin the most chunky option on this list but it does feature a large, easy to read pressure dial. If you’re a Princess and the Pea rider who can notice five PSI either side of your ideal then this could be the one for you.

In all honesty we found the three ports (one for canister storage, one for the tyre valve, and one for the gas when in use) a little confusing, and needed the instructions to make sure. It comes with a safety spacer, so we’d just use that and store the gas in the live port for ease in case you need to inflate while low on glucose and a little foggy headed.

The gas installation wasn’t totally leak free, and the lack of a protective sleeve means frosty fingers, but the gas delivery is speedy, if a little lacking in modulation like the Micro Airbooster. As a bonus the Airbooster G2 can be used as an extremely portable standalone tyre pressure gauge too.

(Image credit: Will Jones)

Silca Eolo III

The best CO2 inflator for rapid inflation

Specifications

Weight (without cartridge): 16.7
Modulation: Pressure
Safety Spacer: No
Protective Sleeve: No
Gas Included: No
Valve Type: Presta

Reasons to buy

+
Very well made
+
Rapid inflation
+
Tiny size

Reasons to avoid

-
Poor modulation
-
No real thermal protection

The Silca Eolo III is, as you’d expect from the Italian brand known for luxury pumps and tools, extremely well machined and the most simple of all the inflators featured here. The valve head screws onto the valve (presta only), then you press. The inflation was the fastest of all the models on test, but with that comes a massive lack of modulation. So fast was it that there isn’t much chance for the head to ice up, which is fortunate as the three rubber O-rings don’t provide a great deal of thermal protection.

Another advantage to the Eolo III is its size; it’s incredibly diminutive, so if you’re a rider who eschews all luggage and relies solely on jersey pockets then this could be the one for you. Plus, unlike some Silca products, the price is competitive too. Gas installation was leak free, too, thanks to the quality machining.

(Image credit: Will Jones)

Peaty’s Holeshot

The most stylish CO2 inflator

Specifications

Weight (without cartridge): 24.7g
Modulation: Pressure
Safety Spacer: No
Protective Sleeve: Yes
Gas Included: Yes
Valve Type: Presta

Reasons to buy

+
Colourful finishes
+
Good protective sleeve with a base

Reasons to avoid

-
A bit leaky

When you offer any product in colours that match Chris King anodisation it’s clear there’s been at least some consideration to aesthetics, more so than most on the list. Our matte bourbon inflator certainly looks classy, but is it style over substance?

Inflation is rapid, thanks to the inline design and press-on connection. Gas installation was leak free, though there was a small bit of leakage during use as we suspect the cooling effect caused differential expansion between the head and the canister.

There’s no safety spacer, but gas is included and as a bonus there is a very well fitting protective sleeve that also covers the base, something which is advantageous over other inline options like the Topeak Micro Airbooster, as you apply pressure from the base of the canister. 

(Image credit: Will Jones)

Lezyne Control Drive

The best CO2 inflator for modulation

Specifications

Weight (without cartridge): 26g
Modulation: Dial
Safety Spacer: No
Protective Sleeve: Yes
Gas Included: No
Valve Type: Presta, Schrader

Reasons to buy

+
Well machined
+
Large, easy to use gas dial

Reasons to avoid

-
A bit leaky

The Lezyne Control Drive is another beautifully machined option, perhaps only tipped by the Silca Eolo III. Where it stands out over its competitors is in terms of modulation thanks to a large dial on the head. A word of warning though: make sure this dial is turned all the way down before you install the gas or you risk blowing it all into empty space.

While it stands out in terms of modulation, and ability to inflate very quickly when it’s wide open, it was one of the more leaky models we tested, both on installing the canister and at the valve itself. The protective sleeve is well insulated, but isn’t particularly well fitting and hampers the canister installation; we’d suggest sliding it on once you have the cartridge already in.

(Image credit: Will Jones)

LifeLine CNC

The best value CO2 inflator

Specifications

Weight (without cartridge): 21.6g
Modulation: Dial
Safety Spacer: No
Protective Sleeve: No
Gas Included: No
Valve Type: Presta

Reasons to buy

+
Cheap
+
Excellent modulation

Reasons to avoid

-
Feels a little cheap

The cheapest of the bunch, the LifeLine CNC CO2 inflator punches well above its weight. Gas installation was leak free despite it feeling a little cheap in terms of machining compared to the rest of the bunch.

It doesn’t come with a sleeve, gas, or a safety spacer, and is unusual in its modulation too. You screw the head into the valve, then screw the gas into the head until such a point that it is hand tight and pierced. From this point turning the cartridge anticlockwise opens the valve. It sounds complex compared to others, but in reality it makes for a wonderfully easy to modulate system as the canister effectively acts as a large handle. 

The gas cartridge thread grip is also plastic, rather than metal, so isn't prone to icing up, which is handy as you have to hold it to unscrew the cartridge when you’re done.

(Image credit: Will Jones)

Birzman Roar

The best CO2 inflator for hand protection

Specifications

Weight (without cartridge): 31.6g
Modulation: Pressure
Safety Spacer: No
Protective Sleeve: Yes
Gas Included: Yes
Valve Type: Presta

Reasons to buy

+
Brilliant sleeve
+
Leak free

Reasons to avoid

-
Modulation lacking

The obvious benefit of the Birzman Roar is the sleeve. It has the best coverage of any on test, fits well, and is very well insulated. It needs removing for cartridge installation, but that’s no real drawback. The real star is the insulated tab that sits over the head, allowing you to press down at the head rather than levering the canister and risking damaging your valve.

The cartridge installation was pretty stiff, the stiffest on test, but it did mean it was leak free. The same can’t be said at the valve though, as we did lose some gas while inflating the tyre. Modulation wasn’t class leading either, but it was acceptable compared to inline options like the Micro Airbooster.

How to choose the best CO2 inflator for you

What are CO2 inflators?

In the basic sense they're simply a small canister of compressed carbon dioxide that is delivered to your tyre via a valve head. There are variations on the theme but they all aim to do the same thing. Nearly all use threaded cartridges, so that’s all we’ve featured here, which come in either 16g or 25g varieties.

The two basic types are inline, whereby the cartridge is in line with the valve and actuated by pressing down, and angled types where the valve head forms a 90-degree angle and the canister will stick out sideways from the rim when in use. There’s no great difference between the two, but if you’ve got small wheels and lots of spokes then an angled one might be easier for you to use.

How many cartridges does it take to fill up a tyre?

For road tyres a single 16g cartridge is sufficient for reinflation, and will get it up to and over your desired pressure with ease. You may end up over inflating and having to back off.

For larger volume tyres, we’re talking gravel bikes here, we’d go for a larger 25g cartridge. While you may have the volume within a 16g for reinflation, you may not be able to reach sufficient pressure to reseat your tubeless tyres, which would leave you in a pickle.

Are CO2 cartridges single use?

Yes, once they’re installed in the head they’re basically a disposable item. Once your tyre is back on you’ll probably want to vent the remainder of the canister by pressing the head against something (not your finger!) or opening the valve. If you unthread the cartridge without doing this you’ll spray gas everywhere in an uncontrolled way, and if you stow it away without venting the remainder it could end up venting itself in your jersey pocket.

This also means that for longer rides you may want to carry a couple of spare cartridges in case the worst happens.

What can I do with the cartridges after use?

They're made of aluminium, so can be recycled however you currently recycle your aluminium. 

Does CO2 leak out of bike tyres?

Carbon dioxide is a smaller molecule than the mix of molecules in the air which normally goes into your tyres. As such it seeps through the rubber of a tyre more easily and will go flat faster. It won’t go down immediately, but you will notice it the next day. Our advice would be not to rely on CO2 for multi-day events, and if you do have to use a CO2 inflator then deflate your tyres when you get home and refill from a standard pump. 

How we test

We’ve used plenty of CO2 inflators here at Cyclingnews so we know what to look for in terms of ease of use, thermal protection, gas delivery modulation and overall build quality.

For this grouptest we used the same tyre each time to avoid any differences in the valve, and always started from totally flat. The tyre in question was a Challenge Strada 27mm, which can be a little tricky to reseat so it makes an ideal test subject.

Will Jones
Will Jones

Will joined the Cyclingnews team as a reviews writer in 2022, having previously written for Cyclist, BikeRadar and Advntr. There are very few types of cycling he's not dabbled in, and he has a particular affection for older bikes and long lasting components. Road riding was his first love, before graduating to racing CX in Yorkshire. He's been touring on a vintage tandem all the way through to fixed gear gravel riding and MTB too. When he's not out riding one of his many bikes he can usually be found in the garage making his own frames and components as a part time framebuilder, restoring old mountain bikes, or walking his collie in the Lake District.

Height: 182cm

Weight: 72Kg

Rides: Custom Zetland Audax, Bowman Palace:R, Peugeot Grand Tourisme Tandem, 1988 Specialized Rockhopper, Stooge Mk4, Falcon Explorer Tracklocross