What Is Airsoft?

The DEFINITIVE Guide To This Exhilarating Combat Sport (+7 Can't-Miss Tips For Beginners)

Let me guess. You Googled “what is airsoft?” and ended up here.

What is airsoft primary - primary image

Good question. And you’re in the right place.

In short, airsoft is a cross between paintball and actual firearm combat.

Looking for more detail? Keep reading.

What Is Airsoft?

Airsoft is a gun combat simulation sport where players organize into teams (or play any of the various game formats) and try to eliminate each other by shooting airsoft pellets in lifelike skirmishes using realistic weapons.

Why Play Airsoft?

Airsoft is an awesome game for gun enthusiasts who want a safe, fun, and less expensive way to get their firearm fix with an incredibly diverse and welcoming community.

Airsoft guns look and perform like actual firearms, except the plastic pellets they fire have much less risk of serious injury. This makes airsoft a great sport for those just getting into shooting using real guns. If you aren’t yet comfortable with a real firearm, an airsoft gun can help you practice key elements of firearm use:

  • Breathing
  • Sight alignment
  • Trigger pulling
  • Overall firearm use

All in a much safer environment.

Airsoft Is Very Different Than Paintball

Sound like paintball?

The two games share many similarities but have a few key differences. Check out our paintball vs airsoft guide for the full comparison, but at a high level there are three big differences.

  1. Paintballs leave obvious marks on players.
  2. Airsoft emphasizes realism.
  3. Airsoft requires more robust eye safety.

Let's take a look at each.

Sound like paintball? Both games share several similarities but there are 3 key differences.
Sound like paintball? Both games share several similarities but there are 3 key differences.

1. Paintballs leave obvious marks on players

Airsoft pellets leave no such marks, which means players need to be honest about whether they were hit. This makes the airsoft community noticeably different than the paintball community as honesty and integrity have become core values of the sport.

2. Airsoft places significant emphasis on realism

Whereas many paintball markers look obviously fake (and they’re usually called “markers” and not “guns”) the vast majority of airsoft guns are extremely realistic in design, weight, and function.

3. Airsoft requires more robust eye safety gear

Airsoft BBs are much smaller than paintballs, which means they're more likely to sneak inside the small crack between your mask and your face. A properly-fitting airsoft mask is an essential piece of safety gear.

So, Airsoft Is Like BB Guns, Right?

More so than paintball, but airsoft and BB guns still have a ton of differences.

Safety is the biggest difference as airsoft guns fire small plastic pellets compared to the larger metal pellets that BB guns fire. This also makes BB guns more accurate when firing upon longer-range targets as the metal BBs are less susceptible to wind and air effects.

But for the sake of both simplicity and consistency, the rest of this article will call airsoft pellets “BBs.”

Importance of Safety in Airsoft

That brings us to a big point with airsoft: safety.

And that safety really applies to just one region of the body: your face.

While paintball requires googles to keep paint out of your eyes, airsoft players need to take that a step further, wearing masks that are snug enough to keep the small BBs from squeezing through the mask and hitting your eyes.

However, while paintballs generally are limited to a maximum velocity of 285 fps compared to 400-plus fps for airsoft BBS, paintballs actually hurt more. That’s because the average paintball weighs around 3.2 grams, 16 times more than the average airsoft BB (0.2 grams).

Getting hit by an airsoft BB is likened to getting snapped by a rubber band, but injuries can be more significant including welts, blisters, and even a little drawn blood if you aren’t wearing proper protection.

A Brief History of Airsoft

Remember how I said one of the biggest pros to playing airsoft is its realism? Well, airsoft actually began in Japan in the 1970s when firearm enthusiasts were looking for a way to enjoy their hobby while still conforming to Japan’s strict gun control laws. By the late 1980s, airsoft had made its way to Europe and by the 1990s it had emerged in the United States.

3 Types of Airsoft Guns

There are three main types of airsoft guns:

  1. Spring Powered Guns (SPG)
  2. Gas-Powered Guns, either Gas Blowback (GBB) or Non-Blowback (NBB)
  3. Automatic Electric Guns (AEG)

Let's compare each.

Gun Type Description Pros Cons
Spring-Powered Guns Spring-powered guns (SPG) are the most basic airsoft guns and need to be cocked back (in the case of pistols) or set in place with bolt action (in the case of sniper rifles). The trigger pull releases the spring, firing the gun. Less expensive. Manual spring action doesn't require any gas or batteries, meaning they can fire endlessly. Slower to fire in close combat.
Gas-Powered Guns There are two types: gas blowback (GBB) and non-blowback (NBB). Both are fully mechanized, so no battery packs needed, with the biggest difference between the two being whether the gun recoils like an actual firearm (GBB) or not (NBB). GBB guns are more complicated with more moving parts but offer more realism, which is big in airsoft. NBB guns are easier to maintain and don't recoil. The many moving parts of GBB guns require more maintenance. NBB guns lack the realism of lifelike recoil. Both require compressed air, which runs out.
Automatic Electric Guns Automatic electric guns (AEG) are the most commonly used gun.They require a battery, which powers an electric motor. When you pull the trigger, the motor spins and internal gears compress a bolt against a spring. When fully compressed, air gets trapped between the bolt and the BB. The force of the bolt snapping forward projects the BB out of the gun at speeds ranging from 150-400 feet per second (fps) or more. AEG achieve the fastest firing speeds and tend to look the most realistic. Rechargeable batteries are easier and less expensive to replenish than HPA tanks. You'll probably need aftermarket upgrades to hit top-end firing speeds. Usually the most expensive guns.

Keep in mind, we're just talking about each gun's firing mechanism.

You can find each type of firing mechanism with pistols, rifles, and more.

Our guides to the 17 Best Airsoft Pistols and 11 Best Airsoft Sniper Rifles make choosing your firearms easy.

4 Types of Airsoft Games

Like paintball, there are several different types of airsoft games you can play.

First, you can play general skirmish games with defined objectives like Capture the Flag. Check out our guide to the different types of paintball games for more ideas.

Second, and a big part of airsoft’s appeal, are full-scale military simulations or Milsim games. These games are large, well-organized, and often take 24 hours or more to complete. It’s the closest thing to live military combat, even more so than paintball Milsim games.

Military simulations (MilSim) are a huge part of the airsoft community.
Military simulations (MilSim) are a huge part of the airsoft community.

Third, airsoft has the Airsoft International Practical Shooting Confederation (AIPSC), which is an organized one-person form of airsoft where players try to complete an obstacle/target course with both speed and accuracy. There’s no firing at other players.

Fourth, there’s speedsoft. This is the airsoft version of paintball’s speedball where teams compete against each other in a small, controlled environment. As the name implies, speedsoft is fast-paced and it lends itself to tournament play because of the highly-regulated and easy-to-observe playing field.

7 Tips to Make the Most of Your First Airsoft Experience

Never played airsoft before? These tips should help you hit the ground running.

What Is Airsoft?

1. Look for a close quarters battle (CQB) facility near you

Google “airsoft facility near me” and you may be surprised to see what’s in your backyard. OK, maybe not your backyard—you may have to travel a little—but there probably are more facilities nearby than you’d expect.

2. Rent a gun and mask your first time

Airsoft guns typically cost less than paintball markers, but it’s always a good idea to dip your toes in the water before diving in fully. For one, you want to make sure airsoft is for you. (Spoiler alert: It probably is.) But moreover, there are a few different types of airsoft guns and renting them gives you a great opportunity to try before you buy.

3. But you’ll want more than just a pistol

Pistols are great to carry but you’ll probably be going up against players with stronger weapons that support fully-automatic firing and larger magazines. A pistol alone just won’t be enough.

4. Wear long sleeves, pants, and sturdy shoes

You don’t need to go overboard on protection (except on your face), but getting hit by an airsoft BB traveling 300 fps absolutely can hurt. You want to be light and mobile while having at least the bare minimum protective gear. Gloves are a good idea, too.

Long sleeves, pants, and sturdy shoes are essential for airsoft, but you don't need full camouflage and tactical gear. A sweatshirt, jeans, and hiking boots will work great.
Long sleeves, pants, and sturdy shoes are essential for airsoft, but you don't need full camouflage and tactical gear. A sweatshirt, jeans, and hiking boots will work great.

5. Call out your hits

If you’ve ever played paintball, it’s easy to see who’s been hit. The same isn’t true with airsoft, so call out when you feel or hear yourself get hit. Because airsoft requires players adhere to a strict honor system, it’s important to make a good first impression on the players who frequent the facility you’ll be using. Plus, if you don’t call out your hits, other players will just continue to fire on you.

6. Avoid close-range combat

For safety purposes, don’t fire on players within 10-15 feet of you. If you sneak up behind them, give them the opportunity to surrender without being hit. If you and another player both come up on each other face to face, some facilities mark you both out while others have you retreat to a safe distance before resuming play.

7. Airsoft guns operate like real guns

Safety is hugely important in airsoft and other combat sports like paintball. Like a real firearm, your airsoft gun will leave a BB in the chamber when you eject a magazine, so make sure to never point it at anyone when not in play and always keep your safety on.

What is airsoft? Our final thoughts

And there you have it. Airsoft is an addicting game for the firearm enthusiast and is growing in popularity.

If you’re considering airsoft as a weekend hobby, get some friends together and find a facility near you.

And if your friends look at you and say, “Wait, what is airsoft?” well, you know where to send them.

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