Your Essential Guide to Airsoft Pistols
What Is An Airsoft Pistol?
To put it simply, an airsoft pistol is your insurance during battle – a sidearm, a savior, a backup plan, and potentially your enemies’ worst nightmare. While players typically tackle the most fearsome firefights with their primary weapons, pistols are worthy replacements once other options are exhausted. Typically holstered at your side, they’re easy to access and carry. Though rifles are often customized, pistols are somewhat more utilitarian weapons.
How Are Pistols Useful?
Primarily, airsoft pistols excel at close-range combat. While rifles – and some cases, shotguns – perform well at all ranges, pistols aren’t as capable. Accordingly, pistols are wildly popular during CQB matches. They’re lightweight, maneuverable, and flexible platforms. With the addition of flashlights and laser sights, pistols can become formidable primary weapons under the right conditions. Clearing rooms and shooting around dense battlefields are ideal tasks for pistols. Not only that, many of these close-quarters fields are subject to firepower restrictions. Pistols can be easily tweaked to satisfy both joule and FPS requirements.
Airsoft snipers also rely on pistols for survival. Since snipers typically operate from long distances, their weapon ranges keep them relatively safe. However, front lines and respawn points are always changing. This is where pistols become essential. When suddenly confronted with unexpected foes, rifles quickly become unwieldy – especially at close range. In these scenarios, pistols are indispensable. That’s especially true if they’re silent. While operating behind enemy lines, a dependable sidearm can be the difference between surviving undetected or shambling back to base.
In a general sense, things go wrong in the field. Rifles can jam, break, or underperform in any given situation. When the unexpected strikes, pistols are handy backups. A trusty secondary gives you a fighting chance to fend off opponents. Many pistols are supremely reliable and will perform flawlessly shot after shot. Accordingly, their portability means you could carry multiple, should your loadout permit it.
Are There Different Types of Pistols Available?
There are three categories of pistols currently on the market:
The most-popular type of pistol available today, gas-powered pistols dominate fields due to their power and versatility. Offered in a wide FPS range, they use various propellants: green gas, red gas, duster (134a) gas, CO2, and propane. With so many options available, you can easily find a pistol that suits your preferences. Because the composition of these gases differs, your pistol may have unique maintenance requirements to keep it shooting smoothly.
Each gas system also has its own pros and cons relating to efficiency, power, and reliability under different conditions. For example, colder environments favor CO2 due to its superb performance. Green gas is more vulnerable to changing temperatures and will combust differently. Duster gas tends to be underpowered, whereas CO2 and propane typically reign supreme. This is not a hard rule, though.
Gas pistols do have some cons pertaining to upkeep and sustained wear over time. These guns are subject to a lot of repeated, internal pressure, so choosing a solidly-built sidearm is essential. They also come in gas blowback (GBB) and non-blowback varieties. GBBs are more realistic, though they bring durability considerations to the table due to their moving slides. Don’t let this deter you from purchasing one, however. Any gun that’s well built should stand the test of time if properly cared for.
Accordingly, blowback models are some of the most-coveted sidearms you’ll find. Gas pistols are investments, since they can be readily upgraded with a plethora of aftermarket parts if need be. For players seeking maximum performance and reliability, even through customization, these stand head and shoulders above the rest.
Often cheaper than their gas-powered cousins, spring-power pistols are great options for beginners and intermediate players alike. As it sounds, these pistols fire BBs using the unleashed energy of a compressed spring. These springs vary in stiffness and gauge, changing how hard each respective pistol will shoot. This is the largest factor in determining FPS in spring-powered guns.
Spring guns are user friendly and require little maintenance. In addition, magazines don’t have to accommodate gas cartridges, and are thus much cheaper. They are also lighter and traditionally made of plastic. Because of this, spring guns tend to be lightweight and easy to carry for extended periods of time.
Reliability with spring pistols is a mixed bag. On one hand, you don’t have to worry about leaks and environmental conditions with springs. The firing mechanism is simpler, and the cocking required before each shot lessens wear and tear by default (due to reduced rate of fire over time). However, these guns are cheaper. That often equates to lesser build quality internally, commonly in the usage of plastic parts. These may break down more readily over time.
Spring guns are usually viewed as purchases as opposed to ‘investments.’ Upgrade parts are scarce as are replacement parts, meaning you will likely upgrade to a gas pistol as you grow more experienced.
Airsoft Electric Pistols (AEPs)
Filling a niche role in the airsoft realm, AEPs aren’t wildly popular amongst players. However, they are nice options for players seeking completely-automatic loadouts. In short range or room-to-room battles, these pistols have a role. AEPs fire at semi-automatic and fully-automatic rates, should you need to spray multiple rounds in short order.
These pistols propel BBs through battery power, meaning they will need to be charged between matches. That’s not necessarily a problem, but it is something to consider. Owners commonly outfit these AEPs with lithium-polymer battery upgrades, increasing both battery capacity and rate of fire. Though upgrades aren’t plentiful for these pistols, you won’t be left hanging completely.
Since players don’t commonly use AEPs, your options on the retail market will be limited. However, some major brands – such as CYMA and Tokyo Marui – do dominate the market and offer solid pistols. In terms of pricing, airsoft electric pistols do tend to be cheap. Reliability is average on the whole, with build quality resembling that of most spring-powered pistols.
Which Brands Should You Consider?
Luckily, there’s no shortage of quality pistol brands on the airsoft market. Many manufacturers offer a wide variety of options, each with varying finishes and firing mechanisms. However, there are some brands that rise to the top. Deservedly so, these have a superb reputation revolving around quality and performance.
Tokyo Marui has long been hailed as a superior pistol brand, offering quality internals and reliability. They’re highly upgradeable and built to last – though cost may be a barrier, depending on model desired. The brand is synonymous with potential just as much as it is longevity. Tokyo Marui’s Hi-Capa 5.1 is among the best-known gas pistols, as is their MK23.
KWA offers many crowd favorites and is highly-praised for performance. Reliability receives high marks, and options ranging from M1911s to hi-capas provide superb variety. KWA claims its gas system is one of the most reliable. The brand offers great build quality like Tokyo Marui, and makes multiple pistols which incorporate metal externally. KWA’s pistols sit squarely in the mid to high-end market.
Though knocked for quality control issues, WE-Tech offers a huge variety of pistols for all budgets. Generally, these sidearms are well-received. Upgrade parts and replacement parts are readily available, especially for crowd favorites like WE’s CQB Master and Glock replica.
KJW offers great mid-range options which are highly popular. KJW’s calling card is value, offering great performance and above-average reliability at a smaller price tag. If you’re not looking to shell out for brands like Tokyo Marui and KWA, you will find a great fit with KJW’s pistols.
Lastly, ASG has some nice options if you want to stand out from the crowd. With fully-licensed CZ replicas and HK replicas, ASG makes high-performing pistols that not everyone else will have. Their designs tend to be somewhat more modern and incorporate durable polymer in the frame.
This is not an exhaustive list of all worthwhile brands in the airsoft world, but should provide you with a good starting point in your research.
How Do Internals and Externals Differ Between Pistols?
Mainly, the conversation of quality internally centers on build materials. Ideally, high-powered pistols will heavily incorporate metal components throughout the firing mechanism and trigger box. These provide the best durability, especially over time. Metal internals will typically be steel, aluminum, or brass – depending on the part and manufacturer. Metal components wear slower and are naturally resilient. This is extremely important for moving parts since they’re the most vulnerable.
With cheaper pistols, the majority of internal parts is typically fashioned from plastic. Plastic flexes and wears more under stress, and plastic parts are manufactured less precisely. This can cause issues when parts are often moving. That’s not to say plastic is inherently bad, but longevity will be affected. The magnitude of that issue depends on how long you plan to keep your gun, or if you’re going to upgrade your internals regardless.
Durability doesn’t only depend on internal build quality. Externally, your pistol should also be built using quality materials. The tougher the frame, the more bumps and drops it can sustain. When firing repeatedly, crucial components like the trigger and slide must be up to the task. Typically, weaker gas guns, spring pistols, and AEPs use plastic slides. These slides vary in quality due to finish, weight, and manufacturing tolerances. For example, a cheap slide might wiggle and have play when moved – this is not ideal. Pistols using CO2, propane, and green gas should absolutely have metal slides to handle repeated shooting. This is especially true for blowback pistols.
Frames can be plastic (or polymer) or metal. Metal is usually more resistant to drops and damage. However, lighter polymer options can offer surprising durability. Regardless, plastic pistols will chip or scuff more easily against hard surfaces.
Quality is a consideration based on many factors, like ergonomics, balance, and appearance. Modern replicas like Glocks and CZs will typically sport polymer frames, though these are higher quality. There are no firm absolutes when it comes to build quality. Some plastics will be better than others, as will some metals. Keeping your playing conditions and gear in mind will help determine your needs.
Pistols vs. Other Airsoft Guns
Pistols are weapons of compromise by their nature. They are typically best at short to mid ranges, and thus have their own unique uses. Pistols will almost always be out-ranged by sniper rifles and assault rifles, those disadvantages being magnified as fields become more open. Shotguns and pistols are more comparable and have similar usefulness, though pistols are easier to aim and shoot quickly. For that reason, we find pistols more practical than their pump-action cousins.
Many pistols, even some of the best, will lack bottom rails. This rules out additional accessories. However, many pistols feature Picatinny and 20mm bottom rails, which offer players options. Rifles are typically more flexible, but pistols were never meant to check every box. Power can actually be a wash, though rifles will commonly outpace pistols in terms of accuracy and velocity.
So, What Makes an Airsoft Pistol Good?
Like most things, your opinions will be subjective depending on your needs. Do you value lightweight construction or heavy construction? Do you need high FPS or high rate of fire? What fields do you typically play in, and in what weather? Are upgrades crucial or optional? What’s your budget?
This may seem like a flurry of questions, but they’re all important considerations. Truth be told, a good or best pistol will be the one that satisfies most of your requirements. Ideally, you’ll want something that performs admirably under a variety of conditions. A pistol is a secondary, and should be as reliable as possible. It should be comfortable to wield and easy to shoot.
Our answer to this question relates back to why we made this guide in the first place. We wanted to arm you with the knowledge and mindset to draw your own conclusions. Buying an airsoft pistol is fun and using it should be even more exciting. If you choose a pistol you love firing match after match, that’s all you can really ask for.