Getting Into Airsoft: A Beginners Guide

  • Written By Eric Crouch on June 20, 2020
    Last Updated: January 31, 2021

Ever played paintball but been disappointed at how unrealistic the guns look, or how chaotic every paintball game ends up being? Maybe you want something similar to paintball, where you participate in simulated shooting games, but with more realistic guns and a more organized structure.

If that’s the case, Airsoft is an ideal activity. While you still use fake guns to hit other players just like with paintball, Airsoft is a lot more focused on military-style authenticity and tactical play. Furthermore, Airsoft games make use of completely different guns that fire small plastic pallets rather than colorful paintballs.

Let’s go over everything you need to know if you’re a beginner to Airsoft.

What is Airsoft, Exactly?

In a nutshell, Airsoft is usually a team sport where people use Airsoft guns in simulated combat games. Unlike paintball, most Airsoft games and organizations include or prioritize faux-military simulations, costumes, and/or maneuvers. To this end, many Airsoft guns look much more similar to real guns compared to paintball firearms, though Airsoft guns all feature safety tips to stop anyone from thinking they’re real weapons.

In addition, most Airsoft players dress in more realistic military gear, like vests, helmets and camouflage uniforms.

Airsoft vs. Airguns vs. Paintball

Many beginners to this activity are often a little confused about the difference between Airsoft guns compared to airguns and paintball guns.

Airsoft guns and paintball guns are more comparable, as they’re both used for recreational play. Airsoft guns fire small BBs and can maintain accuracy at a higher distance compared to paintball guns. Paintball guns use “paintballs” that explode in colorful paint splashes when they hit an opponent.

Meanwhile, airguns are actual hunting or marksmanship weapons that can use CO2, spring-piston, or pneumatic mechanical systems to fire small BB projectiles. Unlike the BBs fired by Airsoft guns, these pellets are hard enough to kill small creatures or seriously injure other people. They’re not toys, but can be used for general pest control or backyard plinking.

Airsoft Game Rules

The object of most Airsoft games is to be the last team standing. To this end, most Airsoft players prioritize shooting the players on the other team in order to knock them out of the game. However, rule intricacies or objectives can vary from game to game.

For instance, some games might have opposing teams try to capture an objective or flag and bring that valuable target back to their own base. Others might have “restart” or “surrender” zones – these are spaces where players have to return to after being shot if they want to rejoin the game.

Game types include:

  • Skirmish, which is essentially a team deathmatch. The last team standing wins!
  • Milsim, or military simulation. Teams may have very organized and dedicated command hierarchies or roles, and games usually stretch out over the course of one or more days
  • AIPSC, which is a target shooting sport
  • Speedsoft, which is a faster-paced version of regular Airsoft and is closer to paintball

Unlike a fast-paced and close-quarters game like paintball, Airsoft can be played at a variety of ranges. Sniper rifles and long-distance weaponry are common in addition to close range shotguns, pistols, and weapons. Additionally, there aren’t always markings on a player’s body if they’re hit by an Airsoft BB.

As such, it’s down to each individual player to honestly admit when they are hit and take themselves out of the game or retreat to a restart zone. This could theoretically open the door to cheating players, but more often it breeds an incredibly honest and friendly environment since cheaters are not welcomed by most serious Airsoft leagues or teams.

Other rules are a little more specific, and can be varied depending on the game you’re playing:

  • most games don’t let dead players speak, and some may require players to remain prone for a certain amount of time
  • many games don’t allow “blind” firing, or firing where you can’t see an opponent. This prevents you from accidentally shooting someone in the eye or someone who’s not playing
  • the majority of Airsoft fields don’t let you climb on walls, scaffolding or windows
  • spectators are not allowed to walk on the fields while games are in play
  • your magazines for your Airsoft guns have to be taken out when you’re not on the field
  • fighting is not tolerated in Airsoft games, whether it’s physical or verbal
  • your gun must always be pointed in a safe direction unless you’re on the field and intend to shoot at somebody
  • many Airsoft games also have referees that can help separate players when there are disagreements or escort players to surrender zones or restart zones if they refuse to cooperate

Safety Rules

There are a series of safety regulations to keep things clean for all players involved. For instance, every player in serious Airsoft games must wear a minimum-rated amount of high protection, and many players will recommend that everyone wear a full-face mask. This prevents eye or face injury over the course of the game.

Furthermore, legitimate Airsoft weaponry is limited in power, usually less than 1.15 J of energy for full auto weapons and less than 2.3 J of energy for any weapon that requires cocking, like a bolt action sniper rifle or shotgun.

Put another way, most Airsoft guns have FPS or feet per second velocity limits of between 300 and 450 FPS. This prevents skin from being broken in most cases.

Where is Airsoft Typically Played?

Airsoft games can be played either indoors or outdoors, although outdoor arenas are most common for longer games like Milsim activities. You can sometimes find professional or serious Airsoft arenas that may rent out a hangar, an obstacle course, or a basketball court to Airsoft teams looking for great indoor locations.

However, some teams prefer to head the local parks or other outdoor spaces to enjoy their Airsoft. The trick with outdoor Airsoft is that teams need to be careful, so they don’t vandalize property accidentally. Furthermore, Airsoft can’t be held on private property without the express permission of the owner.

How do Airsoft Guns Work?

There are three main varieties of Airsoft guns: electric-powered, gas-powered, and spring-powered.


Electric-powered Airsoft guns are operated with batteries and are usually the most realistic looking. They can also be quite expensive and may come with both fully automatic and semiautomatic firing modes. In a nutshell, electric Airsoft guns work through a small motor inside their chassis that’s connected to the battery. The motor compresses a bolt when you cock an Airsoft gun and pushes it against a spring. As soon as the bolt is fully compressed, you can pull the trigger and propel a BB out of the barrel.

In general, electric Airsoft guns feature batteries that last for up to 2 to 3 hours. If you want to participate in a longer Airsoft tournament or game, you may need to keep several fully charged batteries on your person in order to keep shooting.


Gas-powered Airsoft guns (powered most commonly by CO2) operate using a gas-focused mechanism. Compressed gas cartridges of CO2 expel a small amount of gas contained in a given cartridge to propel a BB out of a barrel. The advantage of these types of guns is that each BB theoretically receives the same amount of propulsive force as the others. However, you need to constantly buy new CO2 compressed gas cartridges and your gun’s FPS will decrease over time as the gas cartridge loses pressure.

The number of pellets you can expect from a single CO2 cartridge depends on how much gas is contained within the cartridge and the FPS of the weapon you use it with. In general, most CO2 cartridges last for a few magazines at a minimum regardless of size and gun type.


Spring-powered Airsoft guns operate through a spring mechanism and don’t use gas cylinders or batteries. They’re the easiest to use and understand, so they’re also the first type of Airsoft guns that beginners get their hands on. The disadvantage is that you have to cock a spring-powered Airsoft gun every time you want to shoot, and they don’t look as realistic as the other two types.

Spring-powered Airsoft guns only come in semiautomatic modes. The spring within the Airsoft gun is compressed every time you use a cocking lever. The spring is released when you pull the trigger, which drives a plunger inside the gun forward. This compresses air that’s passed through the barrel to drive your BB out of the barrel.

Any of the three types of Airsoft guns can be great, although certain professional leagues may place limits on the types of guns you can bring to a competition or event.

What Airsoft Guns Are Good for Beginners?

In general, spring-powered Airsoft guns are a good choice for beginners since they tend to be fairly affordable and allow players to get into the sports slowly and carefully. They do require you to cock the weapon each time you want to take a shot, but this isn’t such a bad thing if you need to work on your accuracy and positioning anyway.

However, you might also benefit from gas-powered Airsoft guns thanks to their ease-of-use and intuitive operation. The fact that gas-powered Airsoft guns use disposable cartridges of compressed CO2 makes them pretty similar to “real” guns that use disposable magazines, so it’s easy for many players to grasp how to pace their shots and ammo this way.

Blowback Airsoft Guns

Sometimes, you can find gas-powered Airsoft guns that have a “blowback” action or mechanism. Many players dedicated to realism within their Airsoft activities love these types of guns since it adds even more authenticity to the experience.

In a nutshell, these types of pistols are still powered by compressed gas but feature blowback actions that cause the weapon’s slide to shoot back every time the trigger is pulled. This adds an amount of recoil, similar to what you would experience if you fired a real pistol.

While authentic Airsoft enthusiasts like these guns, such Airsoft weapons are also utilized by law enforcement, military personnel, and special operations trainees as practice tools.

How Far Can Airsoft Guns Shoot?

Airsoft guns’ ranges can vary dramatically based on their type and power. In general, the highest-powered sniper rifle Airsoft guns can reach maximum effective ranges of about 100 m or 110 yards. However, the majority of other Airsoft rifles and other guns have effective ranges between 40 and 65 m or around 40 to 70 yards. There’s plenty of variation within these limits, of course.

Range is much less important for close-range weapons like pistols and shotguns or fully automatic rifles. It’s more important for long-distance carbines and sniper rifles.

Does Getting Shot with Airsoft BBs Hurt?

It depends. Most Airsoft games will require all players to wear a minimum of facial protection. This is good to avoid serious injuries and for player comfort since the skin on the face is usually much more sensitive than the skin on your arms or torso.

This being said, Airsoft BBs can certainly hurt a little bit if you get hit in an area without any protective gear. For most players, it’s equivalent to a sharp pinch or sting that dissipates within a couple of minutes. This is actually useful when playing an Airsoft game as it tells you you’ve been hit and will allow you to observe the rules of the engagement.

However, Airsoft BBs can hurt significantly more if your shot at close quarters and aren’t wearing any protective gear over impacted skin. In some cases, even when using Airsoft guns that are within legal FPS limits, you might experience a little skin breakage or bleeding. It’s not uncommon for your skin to be red where you’ve been hit.

All in all, though, most adults playing Airsoft don’t have much trouble with the potential pain that comes along with the sport. In fact, many adults prefer the threat of a little discomfort when playing Airsoft since it adds to the adrenaline of every firefight or engagement.

What About Compared to Paintball?

Paintballs are much larger than Airsoft pellets or BBs. They also explode on impact, splashing colorful paint across their impacted areas. This means that feel that getting hit with paintballs feels a little stronger and sometimes a little more painful.

However, it’s usually less of an issue to get hit by paintballs if you’re unprotected than if you get hit by Airsoft pellets. The smaller size of a typical Airsoft pellet means that more force is concentrated in a small area, leading to a greater likelihood of skin breakage. It’s much less likely that a paintball will ever break the skin, even if it hits you from very close ranges.

Airsoft FPS – What You Need to Know

Airsoft FPS measures a gun’s overall velocity and stopping power. Legal Airsoft guns aren’t allowed to go above 450 FPS in most competitions or professional events, although you can find Airsoft weaponry that goes beyond this limit. Just keep in mind that you may not be able to use such a gun in a serious game, leaving it for general target practice or informal games with lots of protective gear.

Higher FPS means that BBs ejected from an Airsoft gun go faster and farther, and it also usually means they’re more accurate. The majority of Airsoft weapons can shoot up to 200 ft./s to 410 ft./s, with lots of variation in between.

Generally, higher FPS is better than lower FPS so long as you’re within the allowed range for your preferred sport or activity. It increases your accuracy and makes it impossible for someone to not recognize they’ve been hit by a BB, even at long range and even if they’re wearing lots of thick gear.

How Old Do You Need to Be to Play Airsoft?

There’s no minimum legal age if you want to play Airsoft, at least in the United States. However, if you want to join an actual team or play on a regulated field, you will have to subscribe to their age minimums. The majority of fields let anyone who’s older than 12 to participate in the sport. Younger players are sometimes allowed to play with direct adult supervision from a parent or guardian.

More structured events (like Milsim activities) usually have higher age limits to reflect their serious nature and demand for organization. Typical age requirements are usually around 15 years old or higher.

However, you do need to be 18 years or older in order to purchase Airsoft guns and some accessories. So if you’re younger than 18 but want to participate in an informal Airsoft game, you’ll need to get a parent or guardian to buy your weaponry for you.

Wrap Up

Ultimately, Airsoft is a fun outdoor activity that offers a little more variety and opportunity for action-packed roleplaying than typical paintball games. Furthermore, Airsoft allows you to express yourself in an outdoor game to a greater extent than many paintball activities. While Airsoft takes a little effort to get into and finding a consistent team to play with may be time-consuming, there’s ultimately nothing quite like it. If you like shooting, outdoor fun, and good sports action, Airsoft might be a great hobby for you!

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