What Is Airsoft? The Definitive Crash Course

Theo Porutiu

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image of man in ghillie suit in the woods

I love hobbies that get me to exercise. From traditional archery and HEMA to rugby and kickboxing, I’ve dabbled in many sports, and I loved every second of it.

So let me tell you – nothing feels quite like airsoft. It has a unique mix of thrill and strategic thinking you’ll find in a few other places. Mix that with hours of fun in the great outdoors, and you get something you must try at least once in your life.

But what is airsoft? If you’re new to all of this, don’t worry. I’ll explain everything you need to know, from what airsoft is, to what all the abbreviations mean.

Quick Overview of Airsoft

Airsoft is a sport in which players simulate real-life combat situations with realistic imitation firearms (also called BB guns, pellet guns, airsoft replicas, and plenty of other names) that aren’t lethal. Although very different in equipment and community, airsoft bears some similarities with paintball. It’s much less messy though.

Unlike paintball, airsoft is focused on realism. Airsoft guns are usually 1:1 scale replicas of real-life weapons, from the famous Glock to rifles used by the US military and even historically accurate replicas of the WinGun Moisin Nagant. While they look real, airsoft guns fire plastic pallets which (provided the right safety measures are taken) only sting when making contact with your body.

The equipment people wear is also usually realistic. Some airsoft players even use equipment that was manufactured for military use. Boots, gloves, vests, and even face masks are common at your local airsoft field. And since we touched on that, let’s talk about safety.

Safety Before Anything Else

airsoft gear

Airsoft is a beautiful sport, and we want it to remain like that. That’s why we advocate for strong safety measures when playing airsoft.

And all of it begins with eye protection. If you don’t have a sturdy pair of glasses made for airsoft, you should not be on the field. Damage to your eyes is one of the only serious risks when being fired at with any airsoft gun, so it’s really silly not to spend the extra $20 or $30 on a pair of glasses. It’s even sillier to not wear them during a game.

So if you remember anything about airsoft today, let it be this: wear your eye protection!

Of course, we do recommend investing in other gear as well. A helmet, mask, and thick clothing will keep you safe no matter what.

-> Check out our best airsoft gear section for all the details

With proper protection, airsoft is safe, and it doesn’t hurt. Getting hit with a BB just stings enough to realize you’ve been hit. If you’re scared about your first match and want to know more about pain in airsoft, read our article on whether or not airsoft hurts.

Disclaimer: Modded airsoft guns and heavier BBs can be painful, especially from up close. Just ask the field you’re going to or the people you’re playing with what FPS (feet per second – the travel speed of airsoft pallets) their guns have. Anything up to 400 FPS is fine.

Besides gear, there are some common sense rules people use, such as a minimum distance to the target, or a cap on guns’ FPS. Each field and range is different though. If you want a clear rule set ask your group or the range you’re going to.

Types of Airsoft Games

The kind of games you can play with your friends, or the activities your range offers, can all vary greatly from field to field. Sky’s the limit in how you want to organize your games. But there are some popular match types. 

Skirmishing (Team Deathmatch)

Airsoft skirmishing

As the name suggests, skirmishing is when two teams go at it until one of them has been completely eliminated. Eliminating players in airsoft relies on honesty. Each airsoft player must call out whenever they get hit, and quietly retreat from the battlefield. 

You might be worried there are a lot of cheaters in a system like this. But bar from one incident in my teens, I’ve never encountered cheaters in airsoft. People playing this sport are usually honest. And that’s why it’s a system used in most, if not all airsoft game types. 

Skirmishing is also sometimes referred to as Team Deathmatch or TDM.

Capture The Flag

As the name suggests, Capture The Flag is an airsoft game where the objective of both teams is to, well, capture a flag. Usually, the flag is in an open area, and it needs to be extracted, then transported to the team’s base. 

Capture the hill is a variation on this. Again, the name is pretty intuitive. Both teams need to capture a specific area and hold onto it for a while. If you’ve ever played an online shooter video game, you probably know what I’m talking about.

Milsim

Milsim is similar to skirmishing but much closer to real-life combat situations. In Milsim, players take on responsibilities just like soldiers would. They have a clear hierarchy and objectives, and they engage in complex military simulations. 

Military simulations can be a unique experience. But they can also be really exhausting. Some games can go on for days, all while players are alert and active. So while it’s an interesting part of airsoft, I definitely don’t recommend it for beginners.

Speedsoft

Speedsoft throws all simulated military elements out the window in favor of fast-paced games. The airsoft guns used are usually less powerful, and the airsoft range is smaller and more modern. It’s what would happen if airsoft and laser tag had a baby.

Speed soft is not the first stop for most airsoft enthusiasts, especially people that appreciate the strategy aspect of classic games. But it’s fast-paced, thrilling, and a lot of fun.

AIPSC

Airsoft target practice

AIPSC (Airsoft International Practical Shooting Confederation) is the official sport of airsoft guns shooting in target practice. It’s actually one of the earliest forms of airsoft, and it can be really fun. It’s not as adrenaline-filled as airsoft matches, but it’s still an integral part of the sport.

And trust me, when you get your first gun, you’ll be itching to take it to the yard and shoot some bottles. AIPSC is just an integral part of the sport.

How Airsoft Guns Work

All airsoft guns have a propulsion system for the plastic pellets, and a magazine to store the pellets in. While that’s technically it, there are three types of firing mechanisms out there. Whichever one you get will impact how you play.

Here they are:

  • AEGs (Automatic Electric Guns) have a battery and an electronic firing mechanism based on a few motors and gearboxes. This makes the system ideal for automatic rifles, as you can control the firing rate quite easily, and expect good performance in almost all weather conditions.
  • Spring-powered airsoft guns are the first type of airsoft guns. As the name implies, they have a tensioned spring that propels BBs. This limits functionality somewhat, but it’s also the least system impacted by weather. Spring powered sniper rifles are a great choice if you want to shoot from a distance.
  • CO2-powered airsoft guns (also known as green gas or compressed gas guns) use small carbon dioxide gas canisters to propel airsoft pellets with short discharges of pressurized gas. They’re fun to shoot, and can get pretty strong. But gas powered guns are also prone to malfunction under extreme weather conditions.

There’s technically a fourth type – HPA (High-Pressure Air) airsoft guns. These are modified AEGs that use a large pressurized air tank to propel plastic BBs better.

However, an HPA airsoft gun is expensive and hard to operate. It’s definitely not something you should concern yourself with when you’re just getting started.

Airsoft guns also work differently based on the type of weapon they’re replicating. For example, high-end airsoft shotguns have special barrels and shell magazines. They fire 3, or sometimes even 6 different BBs per shot, and you even have to cock them like you would a normal shotgun.

Many airsoft guns have simulated blowback.

And it’s all to make you feel like you’re using a real weapon.

History of Airsoft

Airsoft history

Airsoft first started in Japan in the 70s. Gun control was pretty strict in the country (as is the case today), so gun enthusiasts resorted to using spring-powered rifles that simulate using real guns.

In 1992 Tokyo Marui invented the first AEG, which made it possible to use electric motors and rechargeable batteries with airsoft gun replicas. In turn, this made the sport much more fun, easy to practice, and appealing from the outside.

Thanks to this advancement, as well as how fun airsoft is, it gained notoriety worldwide. Today, it’s a sport beloved by many all across the globe. And Tokyo Marui remains a popular gun maker, one of the best on the market. 

This is not a comprehensive history of the sport by any means. There’s a lot we can talk about, like AIPSC practice across the globe, or how Ichiro Nagata started it all in the 70s. But for now, I think this is a decent crash course.

The Airsoft Range: Where The Magic Happens

Airsoft ranges are private properties that usually have an arena constructed outdoors, or even access to a forest. Regardless of the layout, they all have a designated area for play, where airsoft enthusiasts can try out their new gear and show that all that time playing CoD wasn’t for nothing.

Most importantly though, airsoft ranges have a community around them. It’s the best place to find like-minded hobbyists that you can play with, learn from, and have a great time. 

Airsoft ranges are more common than you think. You’ll usually find at least one or two next to major towns all across the globe. Just open Google Maps, type in airsoft, and see what’s around your town. 

If you live in the UK, you can try this airsoft field finder too. 

Isn’t All of This Expensive?

Airsoft can be pretty expensive. It all depends on what budget you have, what gun you want, and the community you join. When I started back in high school, I didn’t really pay for anything for the first few months. I was lucky enough to have a few kitted-out friends that let me use their stuff.

If you’re not that lucky, you can expect to pay around $200 for a decent AEG, although you can find usable models at around $100-$150, or settle for a cheap SMG or shotgun. Then, spend at least $30 on a decent pair of glasses.

And lastly, you can set aside around $100-$150 for consumables and other accessories. If you want better gear, bump that up to $200-$300.

This is a budget start. If you want to go all out, you can end up spending thousands of dollars on a single rifle. But most airsoft guns worth their salt will cost you over $150.

-> If you want budget options, check out our roundup of the best airsoft guns for beginners

Before you do all of that though, research your local range. A lot of them rent guns and equipment. If you don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on equipment without even trying this sport, you might be able to rent the kit.

Airsoft Legality Across The Globe

Most countries allow airsoft guns with some restrictions like how old you have to be to use them. Some of them, like the US, mandate the use of an orange tip to make the guns stand out from regular firearms. 

There are rare cases when airsoft gun ownership is illegal, like in the case of China. But by and large, airsoft guns are legal, although usually controlled, and you can play airsoft in most countries.

We’re not legal experts though, and this is not legal advice. You should research the legality of airsoft guns in your own country before purchasing or using an airsoft gun. Socomtactical’s article about this is a good place to start. 

Final Thoughts

So what is Airsoft? The sport means a lot to a lot of different people. Airsoft can be exciting, rewarding exercise. It can be fast-paced and adrenaline packed. It can also be dangerous if you’re not careful. And expensive if you buy every shiny gun you see.

At its core though, airsoft is about simulating modern combat with all the thrills and challenges, but none of the risk. If you decide to buy a gun and play airsoft at your local range in the near future, you’re bound to have a great time. 

Written By

Theo Porutiu

Kai is very passionate about two things: gaming and the outdoors. A combination of the two in the form of airsoft keeps him happy. He also has a fascination with gadgets and guns, which could explain why he’s always tinkering with new parts.