Airsoft may be even more niche than the corporate, team-building friendly paintball sport, but that doesn’t mean the products on offer lack variety. If you’re thinking about getting into Airsoft, then the sheer amount of gear can be overwhelming. The good news is that if you approach your Airsoft shopping in a systematic way, most of the confusion should go away. The important thing is to get the right gear in your hands, so I’m going to focus on what I think are the most important issues. This is not an exhaustive list of Airsoft gun features, so I suggest that if the gun you are looking at uses a term you don’t understand, Google it as it comes rather than trying to learn every esoteric term and function before you start looking for products.
So let’s start off with a (very) brief overview of the core gun technologies.
First, if you you want a more in-depth explanation of the different types of Airsoft mechanism, go check out the article “How do Airsoft Guns Work” elsewhere on the site.
The least you need to know is that AEG (automatic electric gun) technology is probably the right choice for you when it comes to main firearms such as automatic rifles – simple automatic fire with just batteries needed to run it all.
Bolt-action Airsoft guns are usually sniper rifles. Because the bolt-action tech can be pushed to high velocities and accuracy, it makes it perfect for sniper roles, but not much else.
Gas blowback rifles and pistols work about the same as paintball markers, at least in the sense that they use compressed air to fire their rounds. They are more “realistic” in terms of look, operation, and recoil. They are also much more expensive, so think of these as the premium option.
Most people who play Airsoft have two primary guns they work with. First, there’s the sidearm. This is usually a pistol of some description and, in some cases, even a revolver. For most player roles, the sidearm is a backup. It’s faster to draw your sidearm than reloading your main weapon in a pinch. Generally, only players taking on a scout role may use a sidearm as their main weapon. Sometimes it may also be the only practical choice in confined spaces.
Which main rifle you choose will largely depend on two things. The first is which role you’re going to play on your team. For a good overview of which team roles use which weapons, check out “How to Play Airsoft”. The second comes down to your preferred style of combat, even within a specific role. There’s usually a range of styles within main rifle designs. The feel and operation is up to your preference in this case.
Quality and Realism
One of the main appeals of Airsoft is that the guns look like realistic replicas of real-world weapons. However, there are degrees of realism. Some less expensive guns may be perfectly functional, but won’t pass muster upon closer inspection.
Almost all Airsoft guns are a replica of a real-world firearm, but the level of accuracy can vary a lot. At the low end of accuracy, only the broad strokes of the weapon design may be present. At the higher end it may be almost indistinguishable from the real deal, save perhaps for the orange tip.
Obviously, only you can decide how important realism and design accuracy is to you. For many people who play Airsoft, the hobby is just as much about detailed weapon models as it is about playing. It’s also about immersion and roleplaying. Most of us will never be police officers or soldiers. Most of us don’t want to be! However, getting to pretend for a weekend every now and then can be a lot of fun.
More accurate and expensive replicas will make use of high-quality plastics and quality metal components that look and feel pretty good. Of course, the better the outer materials, the heavier the gun will be. That could be a good or a bad thing, depending on your viewpoint, but in general the nicer guns are heavier.
There are a whole host of battery technologies that get put into Airsoft guns that are motor-driven. I’m not going to bother discussing them, however, since in general you should only buy guns that make use of lithium ion batteries. This is the same battery technology that powers your smartphone and electric cars. Lithium ion batteries are cheap and generally hassle free. They do have some downsides, such as the possibility of fire and explosion, but if you treat your lithium batteries right, you’ll never have a day of trouble.
One of the hard limits you face is obviously going to be how much money you have to spend on your equipment. Airsoft guns in general range from very cheap (and awful) to “just buy a real gun already”. On top of this, your total budget can’t just go towards your guns. You need to allocate enough money to safety gear as well. In fact, it’s better to first ensure that you have safety gear that’s going to protect you properly, and then buy your guns with whatever is left in your budget. You’ll end up using good quality protective gear through several gun purchases, so don’t saddle yourself with the cheap stuff for that duration.
Some types of rifle are just going to be more expensive than others. So even if you fancy the idea of being an Airsoft sniper or heavy gunner with an LMG, realistically you may have to start as a regular rifleman.
So let’s summarize the key decisions you have to make when buying your Airsoft guns.
First of all, what type of role are you going to play? That’s going to shape all the gear you choose, from masks to guns.
Next, how much money do you want to spend? Doing your budget properly will get you the best balance of weapons and gear. Finally, how much do you care about realism? More importantly, how much are you willing to pay for it?
Answer these main questions and you’ll be ready to pick out your first guns!