Types of Airsoft Guns
You’ll run into many different situations, fields, and weather conditions when playing airsoft. While one type of airsoft gun may underperform (Ex: gas airsoft guns in the cold), another can step up to get the job done.
To figure out what airsoft gun is right for you, you’ll first need to know what the different airsoft guns are. There are so many to choose from, and companies are constantly releasing new and better guns each year.
Here are the different types of airsoft guns you can get:
- Airsoft Pistols
- Airsoft Snipers
- Airsoft Assault Rifles
- Airsoft Shotguns
- Airsoft SMGs
- Airsoft Machine Guns
(If you’re curious to learn about how they vary in price, check out my blog post on which of these guns were the most and least expensive.)
On top of that, you’ll find that there are several ways these airsoft guns can be powered. The different ways they can be powered are:
They each have their advantages and disadvantages which I’ll get to in more detail below. But there’s one question you should ask yourself first.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Each Gun
The one that suits you best will depend on your skillset and preferred style of game. If you like sneaking around and hitting targets from afar, airsoft sniper rifles are your best bet. If you want to run around and experience the classic MilSim experience, then an airsoft assault rifle is a great pick (although prepare to get constantly hit by BBs). Let’s take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of each type and see which one is right for your situation.
Airsoft pistols are the lightest guns in the game and are what airsoft players use most often as their secondary. If your primary runs out of ammo and you’re in a sticky situation, you can quickly pull your pistol from your holster and continue to return fire at opponents. Airsoft pistols are on average more affordable than an assault rifle, making them great for people on a tight budget.
But why aren’t pistols used as a primary?
It’s because pistols will have smaller magazines, which means you’ll need to reload more often than an airsoft rifle. Rifles also tend to have a higher rate of fire, making them more useful and forgiving when in combat.
Airsoft Sniper Rifles
Airsoft sniper rifles are difficult to master but are fun to try out. A high-end airsoft sniper rifle will extremely accurate and will outrange any other airsoft gun in the game. Players will have some trouble figuring out where you are, giving you the ability to takeout a handful of players before you’re spotted.
The downside to airsoft snipers is that they have a low rate of fire, and aren’t very good for mobility. They also require a bit more maintenance, especially if you’re looking to upgrade the internals.
Aside from being able to choose what type of airsoft gun, you can also choose how that airsoft gun is powered.
Shotguns are not as common in airsoft games as some of the other types of guns, but they’re fun nonetheless. These bad boys excel at close range and have the ability to fire multiple BBs at the same time. The downside is that you’ll get outranged by an assault rifle in mid-range altercations, and airsoft pistols are much easier to move around with when you’re in close quarters. That being said, if you want to spice things up, shotguns are the way to go.
Airsoft Assault Rifles
Airsoft assault rifles most common airsoft gun you’ll see on any airsoft field. They excel at close and long range, have semi-automatic and autmoatic capabilities, and are overall easy and fun to use.
4 Ways Airsoft Guns Can Be Powered
There are 4 types of airsoft guns you’ll come across at some point: Spring, Gas, and Electric, and HPA. They all have their strengths and weaknesses, and what airsoft gun you want will determine which type of powering mechanism is optimal.
Probably the most traditional type of firing mechanism around, spring-powered weapons are fairly common. When a spring-powered firearm is cocked, the spring compresses and stores potential energy. Pulling the trigger releases this energy at once by decompressing the spring. In turn, this propels the BB towards its eventual target. We also want to make a quick distinction: while guns like AEGs do use springs, they’re ultimately operated via battery power. For the purposes of this category, we’re focusing on single-shot spring guns which require you to cycle rounds manually.
Upgrades and Variations
Spring-powered guns, while not quite as upgradeable as other types overall, can be customized. The quickest way to squeeze more raw performance out of a spring gun is fairly simple – replace the spring. Since that key component sends rounds flying, it’s the lowest-hanging fruit. Springs are usually categorized as M-series springs or SP-series springs. M springs measure power in meters per second. SP springs measure power as a percentage increase over standard springs. SP ratings are determined using .25g BBs, whereas M ratings use .20g BBs.
Springs come in different gauges (thickness), lengths, and materials. These attributes determine each spring’s power output. You’ll also notice that beefier springs make guns tougher to cock back. This may be an issue for younger or weaker players, especially during long battles.
Which guns are spring-powered?
Cheaper guns are typically spring-powered, on average. Most commonly, these include entry-level pistols and even shotguns. Springs are great for beginner pistols because they’re easy to operate and require little to no maintenance. However, in pistols and shotguns, performance does have a ceiling. Internals are often cheaper plastic, which does impact longevity.
However, spring-powered sniper rifles are truly best in class. Spring power has some key advantages here: they’re efficient, reliable, and quiet. Unlike gas-powered guns, spring-powered snipers aren’t thwarted by changing weather, don’t leak, and don’t telegraph your position. Concealment requires stealth (the right sniper loadout should help you here), which is why the most successful sniper rifles are single-fire assassins.
The most popular type of airsoft gun available, players flock to gas guns for their performance and flexibility. When the trigger is pulled, the gun siphons a quantity of pressured gas from a storage canister, which then cycles and fires the round. Just like spring weapons can use different springs, gas guns use different kinds of gas propellants. Duster gas, green gas, and CO2 are the most common. However, companies like Nuprol also make red gas and black gas at higher pressures – for increased performance.
The biggest factors in choosing a gas gun are weather conditions, field restrictions, and performance requirements. CO2 is often the most powerful and pressurized. It’s also well-suited for cold-weather skirmishes. Green gas is more susceptible to temperature changes, meaning it will perform less consistently overall. At normal temperatures, red and especially black gasses are probably excessive. These are best used in very cold conditions, which is why they’re made.
Upgrades and Variations
We’ve already discussed gas varieties, but what else do gas-powered guns bring to the table? Gas-powered guns are either gas blowback (GBB) or non-blowback. For example, GBB pistols have slides that kick back, simulating the real thing. Gas-powered rifles are commonly contained systems, though some feature moving components.
Gas firearms are also highly upgradeable. Because gases exert immense pressure on internal components, these parts need to be stout. Most quality gas airsoft guns feature metal internals, at least in most instances. While plastic will warp and break more easily, metal (brass, aluminum, steel) is much more resistant. That being said, not all guns are up to par out of the box. In these instances, aftermarket parts are plentiful. Gas pistols are the stars of the show here.
To boot, many of these internal systems are based on Tokyo Marui’s designs – an industry leader. The airsoft world likes to borrow technologies and apply them elsewhere, which fortunately makes upgrading easier. Though it sounds counterproductive, standardization can be beneficial.
Which guns are gas powered?
Pistols, rifles, and shotguns are most-commonly gas powered. While gas offers good performance in most cases, pistols are the most prolific. Pistols are ideal for gas because they’re extremely popular and almost-essential components of a good loadout. Spring pistols don’t offer enough firepower to get you out of a jam, and only come in single-fire. The vast majority of gas pistols are semi-automatic, and some are even fully automatic. This flexibility allows you to fire multiple power-and-accurate rounds in quick succession. This is great when taking on multiple enemies, heavily-armed opponents, or clearing areas in CQB.
While gas rifles offer good performance, it’s necessary to ask why rifles excel in the first place. Snipers gravitate to the craft because of the precision and need for stealth. Spring-powered rifles reign supreme because they’re incredibly quiet. They’re also predictable. Conversely, gas rifles attract attention and somewhat unpredictable. Changing gas pressures and weather throw more variables into the equation, the antithesis of good sniping.
Gas shotguns can be capable, but the category is largely unexplored compared to pistols and rifles.
Reliant on integrated battery packs, electric airsoft guns are common on the battlefield. Pulling the trigger draws power from the battery, which drives the gun’s firing mechanism. This requires internal wiring. Accordingly, you also need to recharge these batteries when they run out of juice. Just like gas canisters, it may be useful to carry additional battery packs, should your setup allow for changes in the field.
That being said, electric guns are immensely popular in the form of airsoft electric rifles, or AEGs. These rifles are typically select fire, meaning they fire in either semi-automatically or automatically. This quick flip of the switch allows for flexibility and ammo conservation (or depletion). Electric guns have great trigger response and owe their success to elevated rates of fire. This is useful in all fields. Electric guns aren’t sensitive to weather conditions, and larger battery packs allow for extended play.
Upgrades and Variations
The most common upgrades for electric weapons revolve around their lifeblood – the battery pack. These come in varied capacities and shapes. The easiest way to boost performance in your electric gun is to apply a lithium-ion battery upgrade. This increased power (and often battery capacity) allows for nimbler shooting, increased trigger response, and endurance. Keep in mind that larger batteries will take longer to charge, so the addition of a fast charger may be needed.
Any gun that fires automatically can also benefit from gearbox enhancements. Changes to durable components and power-hungry parts will pay dividends. If you choose to upgrade your battery, those rate-of-fire increases may also exert more stress on your internals.
Which guns are battery powered?
AEGs are far and away the most practical electric guns on the market today. Don’t be surprised if you see a ton of airsoft M4 st your local airsoft field. They blend high rates of fire with good-to-exceptional FPS and are compatible with some key upgrades. AEG rifles can provide great fire support and can grow alongside their owners.
Airsoft electric pistols (AEPs) have faded from popularity. They’re largely outclassed in all facets by their gas-powered cousins, though they do have their place. AEPs are cheap and capable at close range, where the advantage is purely raw BB output. Unfortunately, they tend to be underpowered. Despite this, brands like Tokyo Marui and CYMA make electric pistols that are reliable, even if they aren’t top performers. These are great gateway guns for those just getting into airsoft.
Shotguns aren’t typically electric. In all honesty, you should stick to spring and gas options here. Unless you’re sporting an automatic AA12 replica, you’re going to give up practicality and look like a numbskull to boot.
High-Pressure Air (HPA)
A favorite of the tinkerer – and the player wishing to stand out – HPA guns are most loved for their versatility. These guns are not simply guns. They’re systems, built around modifications and reliant on external components to work properly. Players will tap their guns to accept a gas line, which attaches to a tank attached to their person. This makes HPA guns tethered to a degree. For a stocked loadout, this extra heft can be physically taxing. While some dislike this, others find the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.
Unlike other gas alternatives, HPA firearms aren’t particularly sensitive to weather conditions. Tweaks to the HPA system can even account for changes in trigger response and fire rate. You can easily adjust them on the fly to accommodate field rules. This last point has been a source of controversy for HPA guns. Though they chrono appropriately for restricted fields, some players have adjusted their regulators to shoot faster mid-match. HPA does open the door for cheating and accordingly gets a bad rap. In fact, some fields are even banning HPA guns altogether.
Upgrades and Variations
Upgrades are the very reason HPA became popular, in many respects. Gas airsoft guns are investments in many ways – it’s common for players to buy and upgrade their weapons continually over time. This takes a lot of money and some real technical knowledge of airsoft gun internals. Accordingly, HPA guns are also investments, but for different reasons. The cost of an HPA-powered gun is largely up front and is the biggest barrier to entry. However, these guns require little maintenance and don’t require many replacement parts. Simply put, owning an HPA gun is less work once you clear the initial hurdles.
You likely won’t have to disassemble your HPA gun very often. If you do choose to upgrade, simple upgrades to the gearbox will go a long way. HPA isn’t a magic bullet though. Because you’re not upgrading many components, these guns will still perform very similarly to their gas cousins. HPA tanks aren’t easy to refill on the fly, nor is swapping lines.
As a final consideration, these guns are less realistic due to their setup.
What guns are HPA powered?
Rifles are commonly HPA powered. Because they’re already large weapons, tethering them to an HPA line may render them less wieldy than a standalone gun. However, performance and reliability receive high marks.
Pistols can also be HPA, but this can cause issues when your primary is also HPA. Most HPA setups only include one line that runs to the tank. That means you have to swap your HPA line from your rifle to your pistol. This isn’t practical in the heat of battle. Nobody wants to run around with an HPA line running to their pistol while its holstered – that configuration alone might be impractical. Consequently, HPA pistols are most useful in CQB environments as a quick-hitting primary weapon. These require conversion kits for proper setup.