What Is Airsoft? A Beginner's Guide

To put it simply, airsoft is an exciting game played by teams, during which players shoot others with plastic pellets called BBs. Whether played in a backyard or at a dedicated field, players battle to achieve dominance over their opponents. This can include depleting enemy “lives”, capturing landmarks, and completing certain objectives. Players use airsoft guns that often resemble their realistic counterparts to fire BBs at their opponents (you might notice these guns have orange tips). Resembling paintball in many ways, the overall goal is to eliminate as many opponents as possible without getting shot. Teams compete indoors and outdoors using a variety of weapons, equipment, and strategies.

Airsoft was born in Japan during the late 1970s and early 80s. Since it was illegal for citizens to own real guns, manufacturers brought replicas to the hobby market. These imitation firearms shot plastic pellets and became incredibly-popular items nationwide. The craze spread throughout Asia, eventually finding its way to Europe, North America, and beyond. Today, the sport has a strong foothold worldwide. While early guns were spring powered, newer guns are technologically complex.

Military groups and law-enforcement agencies even use the sport for training exercises! This suggests that growth will continue for the sport, especially given its realism. Thankfully, airsoft is welcoming to all due to its low cost and bustling community. Whether you’re a sniper, gunner, or otherwise, you’ll find immense enjoyment in airsoft.

What Do You Need to Play?

You will need the absolute basics: a gun, ammunition, and preferably additional players. You can target shoot to your heart’s content, though the game is best enjoyed alongside others. Storage and wearable gear will help you keep extra accessories organized. While airsoft is quite safe, you will need important precautionary items to prevent serious injury. Accidents happen more often than you might expect. Accordingly, we’ve outlined some important purchases in the following section.

Safety

You’ve likely heard the saying before, and it absolutely rings true for airsoft: “Safety first!” Like many other sports, the excitement of airsoft does come with some potential risks. Guns shoot plastic BBs anywhere from 150 to 600 feet per second – that’s extremely fast. Taking key precautions will keep the game as enjoyable as possible. Furthermore, games take place in diverse environments filled with obstacles and potential hazards. We’re not suggesting you encase yourself in bubble wrap, but consider these basic items:

Goggles and Face Protection

If you don’t invest in anything else, absolutely purchase quality goggles or an equivalent form of face protection. During a match, all parts of the human form are legitimate targets. This makes headshots a commonality in airsoft, which puts your eyeballs in harm’s way. These risks are growing, since many players are gravitating toward inexpensive and powerful gas weapons.

Goggles vary in price and quality, as you’d expect. Find a pair that’s sufficiently impact resistant. Good goggles are ANSI rated to military-compliant safety specifications, and have thus become popular. Players often gravitate towards models like the Revision Desert Locust, Pyramex I-Force, or the ESS NVG. These are highly-rated and protect well against severe impacts. However, ensure you purchase authentic items instead of cheaper knockoffs – those are not always up to par. Besides, you probably don’t want to cut corners when preserving your vision.

Seek options that provide a full seal without fogging in different conditions. This seal is important, especially since BBs tend to ricochet at numerous angles. While we would suggest safety glasses, goggles provide greater coverage without hampering peripheral vision. As an alternative to goggles, you may opt for a paintball face mask. These provide superb protection and are useful during close-quarters battles.

Lastly, avoid mesh around the eyes. BBs may shatter on impact, meaning plastic pieces can pass through into your eyes. Mesh is more appropriate for the lower half of your face, like around the mouth. Players who’ve forgone oral protection have suffered dental injuries.

Head Protection

Adjacent to the face is your head, another vulnerable part of the body. If you’re playing in serious games or with better players, you might consider buying a basic helmet. This will offer superior protection without breaking the bank. Padding level doesn’t have to be exceptional – mainly look for something secure and comfortable. Since you’re jumping into airsoft and will likely play casual games, you might get away with wearing a knit cap or baseball hat. The situation and weather conditions will influence your choice.

Outdoor matches typically carry less risk, since players aren’t as tethered to cover. You’ll present more of your body to opponents on average, making center-mass targeting more favorable. Conversely, CQB matches will often have you peering around corners.

Gloves

Fingered or fingerless, grabbing a durable pair of gloves will save your hands from painful punishment. There’s very little meat on the hands, meaning impacts will sting quite a bit. This is especially true on fingernails and knuckles. Since your hands hold your weapon, protecting them is key.

While it may be overkill during casual matches, many players prefer Mechanix gloves. Akin to other gear, find something fitted and comfortable. The latter will largely depend on weather conditions and personal preference.

Boots

An old saying goes, “Never skimp on anything that separates you from the ground.” Boots are no exception. As your connection to the turf, they should be comfortable, supportive, and offer good traction on a variety of surfaces. Boots are naturally hardy and will thus fend off impacts with relative ease.

For outdoor matches, weatherproof options are always sound investments. Rain, mud, and puddles can hinder an otherwise fun match. You can’t control the weather, but you can take steps to protect your feet from the unexpected. When moving often or across long distances, quality boots will be indispensable.

Choosing the Right Gun

While subjective, buying a solid airsoft gun will help your love for the game blossom. If looking for your first gun, budget concerns may arise. This is perfectly fine – many airsofters face this challenge! Thankfully, manufacturers offer exceptional guns at prices that won’t lead to bankruptcy. Most guns are constructed of various types of plastic or metal.

While we won’t dive incredibly in depth here, there are different types of guns you might find suitable:

Spring weapons are incredibly beginner friendly and offer reasonable performance for players on a budget. These guns are single shot. Simply cock back the slide on your pistol or pull back the bolt on your rifle. This will chamber a BB and prepare the gun to fire. Many players choose spring guns because they’re easy to use and don’t require maintenance. They can also provide great performance in many instances, outpacing other types of guns. If you want to get into sniping, odds are you’ll favor a spring-powered rifle.

Gas weapons are fun to shoot and perform well. Instead of springs, these guns fire rounds via pressurized gas. This gas is stored in cartridges which fit into the grip or magazine of the gun. Gas is compatible with many pistols, rifles, sniper rifles, and shotguns. While gas weapons work extremely well (and are quite popular), they are more expensive to own and require ongoing maintenance to perform at 100%.

Electric weapons have won the hearts of many airsofters, and are incredibly versatile. If you’ve ever seen an assault-rifle replica or machine-gun style airsoft rifle, odds are it was electric. These guns are battery powered and are rechargeable. While some pistols are electric, electric rifles dominate the category. These guns, commonly called AEGs, are best in class. In terms of pricing, it widely varies. Some of the best guns available are electric, as are some great beginner options. They’re enjoyable to shoot and are fully automatic.

Overall, you should purchase a gun that feels comfortable in the hand. It should be easy to use, fun to shoot (or what’s the point), and perform well enough to hold its own in casual to intermediate matches. Sporting-goods stores often sell airsoft guns, as do big-box stores. Online retailers like Evike and Amazon also sell a wide range of firearms. There’s also a popular secondhand market, where you may be able to cheaply snag an awesome gun. Whatever you choose, do your research to learn more about your purchase and ensure its authentic.

Quick Notes on Ammo

When starting out, it’ll probably be easiest to buy ammo based on what’s recommended for your gun. This will most likely be stated on the box or in the owner’s manual. Most beginner guns will take to lighter ammo pretty well. The most common BB weight is .20g. All rounds are also 6mm.

If you have a high-powered gun, it may be better to get heavier BBs alongside it. These will often fly farther with greater accuracy. Many guns also come with a hop-up system. This is adjustable and will help you customize how your shots fly. Finding a nice balance between trajectory and your ammo will be important. It’s common to experiment and see what works best. This is a learning process and each gun is different! Remember to enjoy yourself, tinker with different things, and have fun getting to know your airsoft gun.

The Airsoft Dictionary: Basic Terms and Jargon

Airsoft is both a fun and tactical game, sharing many similarities with military operations. Because of this, there are many important terms and slang that accompany the game. Knowing some of these will help you navigate the airsoft world a little bit easier. The more you know, the better player you’ll become:

GBB – “gas blowback,” a type of gas-powered gun with moving external parts to simulate realistic fire.

NBB –  “non-blowback,” a type of gas-powered gun without external parts that move using pressurized gas output.

CQB –  “close-quarters battle,” a type of game played between enemies that are a short distance apart, often in an enclosed space.

AEP –  “airsoft electric pistol,” a type of pistol that is battery powered.

AEG –  “airsoft electric gun,” a name typically given to battery-powered rifles and machine guns.

FPS –  “feet per second,” or the speed at which a BB travels from a given gun.

RoF –  “rate of fire,” or the rate at which BBs leave a gun during automatic fire in a given time period.

CO2 – Carbon dioxide, a popular variety of gas used to propel BBs.

Hop-up – Internal component of an airsoft gun, often adjustable, which effects how a BB travels once it leaves the gun.

Milsim – Shortened term for “military simulation,” or a large game which emulates real-world war based on locations, objectives, and pace of play.

Hi-Capa – Both a popular type of gun and shortening of “high-capacity,” referring to a gun or magazine that holds more rounds than normal.

Joules – A measure of energy that a round will transfer to a target, based on velocity and BB weight. It describes how ‘hard’ your shot will hit someone and is often regulated.

Field – The location of play or environment in which an airsoft match takes place.

Speedball – A play style of airsoft that is gaining popularity. I go into more depth on that here

LiPo – A type of battery (lithium polymer) used in electric airsoft guns that often performs better than a traditional battery.

This is far from an exhaustive list, but these are important terms to know while growing accustomed to airsoft.

Get out there!

Airsoft is growing rapidly, and for good reason. The sport is an awesome way to meet new friends and form lasting relationships. The game is what you make it – an expensive lifestyle or a casual hobby. Some restrictions aside based on location, airsoft is extremely accessible and supported by passionate players. It’s a great outlet for building teamwork and social skills, and just might scratch that itch Call of Duty no longer can.