Unlike "Airsoft vs. Paintball", where both sport are similar enough that the choice are a preference, airsoft vs. Nerf are in two completely different categories. However, there are the similarity that you can use them to shoot each other and live to tell about it.
This article presents facts with side-by-side comparison between the two sports, so that you can decide what is appropriate for you and your children.
Airsoft gun (photo on the left) resemble real guns. Nerf gun (photo on the right) resembles science fiction toy gun. While most airsoft guns are black, tan, or green to look like real firearms, Nerf guns are painted in bright colors to look futuristic. Airsoft guns costs between $50 and $500, while Nerf guns costs between $5 and $50.
The photo on the left shows an airsoft pistol. The photo on the right shows a Nerf pistol. The airsoft pistol resemble a real firearm. The Nerf pistol resemble future gun from a movie. Airsoft pistols costs between $5 and $200, while Nerf pistols costs between $5 and $30.
Airsoft BB's (in the left photo) are usually 6mm in size, composed of hard plastic, and weights around 0.2 grams. A pack of 5000 BB's costs around $15. A pack of 30 Nerf darts (in the right photo) costs around $10.
Both airsoft and Nerf games are based on honor system. If you get hit with an airsoft BB or a Nerf dart, you call yourself out. But in many Nerf wars, it is just a lot of fun to keep shooting back and forth.
Nerf darts are quite big compared to airsoft BB's. They can be reused multiple times. So as you shoot them back and forth, you can pick the enemy darts off the ground and reuse them. You replace them as they deteriorate over time.
Airsoft BB's are one time use items, therefore, you have to re-supply with new BB's for every game.
Airsoft guns has an effective engagement distance of 100 to 200 feet. Some airsoft sniper gun can hit 350 feet accurately.
Nerf guns has an effective engagement distance of 10 to 20 feet. Sometimes you can shoot them a little further by arching the bullet upward.
Airsoft BB's are dangerous to soft tissues. Therefore, to play airsoft safely, you have to wear impact resistant goggles and facemask. On bare skin, airsoft BB's will sting and cause welts. Airsoft BB's are not safe to use inside a house. The BB's will penetrate or recochet the walls. They will shatter glass and ceramic.
Nerf darts are made out of rubber and foam. They do not inflict damage when hit. In fact you can barely feel them. Nerf is safe to play inside the house, because the Nerf darts does not do any damage.
Airsoft guns uses three types of propellant. The spring version does not use any consumables, other than the plastic 6mm BB's. You manually cock the spring back to shoot the BB's. The electric version uses rechargeable batteries. The gas version uses some form of gas.
Nerf guns comes in two power varieties. There is a spring version like airsoft. Then there is the electric version that uses regular Alkaline batteries.
In addition to the ammunition being consumables, a gas airsoft gun could potentially use all sorts of gas: green gas, red gas, propane, CO2, and compressed air. The gas has to be replenished at every game.
The airsoft electric gun (AEG) uses rechargeable batteries. Rechargeable batteries allows you to power your airsoft gun over and over, without having to worry about the recurring cost. Sure, batteries will have to be eventually replaced, but the cost is far lower than having to pay for gas for every game session.
The electronic Nerf guns uses regular batteries that you can find at the local store. They are easily replaceable and replenish-able with any maintenance effort.
Airsoft and Nerf target two entirely difference audiences. Nerf is marketed to children and kids. But it is still fun for adults to pick up a Nerf gun and have a quick Nerf war in the backyard.
Airsoft are for older teenagers and adults who want to have fun, train for combat, or enjoy MilSim (military simulation). Many law enforcement and military personnel train using airsoft equipment.