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What Is a Nerf Gun?

Updated 11 October 2021

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Author
Author avatar Danny Ashton

Danny is the father of a very active 2-year-old and has made plenty of mistakes buying toys over the last couple years so hopes his site can help others avoid the same fate.

Nerf guns or blasters are toys that use air pressure to fire foam projectiles. While Nerf is a trademark owned by Hasbro, many people use the term “Nerf gun” to refer to any toy that fires foam darts or balls in the same vein as they might use Xerox to refer to the act of photocopying or Kleenex to refer to a tissue.

Hasbro currently produces 22 categories of Nerf guns, outlined in the section below. Several cross-promotional blasters exist, based on guns found in comic books, movies, and popular video games.

Before Nerf guns, Hasbro produced a product called Nerf balls. These balls were made of the same sort of lightweight polyurethane foam found in today’s Nerf darts. The balls were marketed as being totally safe to play with indoors, as they were too light to break windows, knock over china, or injure people inside the house.

Nerf guns tend to have fairly low muzzle velocity (they’re usually powered by a simple spring) and fire very lightweight projectiles. This means that Nerf guns are fairly safe to use in almost any situation. While they’re popular among children, many teenagers and adults use Nerf guns for recreational activities as well, ranging from simple dorm room fun with few rules to elaborate role-playing exercises with complex regulations about what happens when you get hit by a dart.

Hasbro sells accessories for official Nerf guns. These range from purchasable ammo packs (which are a very good idea for anyone who wants to use their Nerf gun long term) to vests, ammo pouches, and storage systems. A handful of blasters can be augmented with attachment kits, which might offer features like lights, different aesthetics, or alternate grips.

What types of Nerf guns exist?

Nerf guns come in many shapes and sizes. Simple Nerf guns tend to be modeled loosely based on real-world revolvers, pistols, and rifles, with rotating chambers, lever actions, and even spring-loaded magazines to match. More complex models might be based on weapons from video games, comic books, or movies, come with large hoppers of balls to use as ammunition, or take advantage of rechargeable batteries to supply the energy needed to fire darts.

Here’s a quick rundown on what you can expect from the current major product lines of Nerf guns.

 1. N-Strike

N strike

The former mainline of Nerf guns, N-Strike blasters fire rubber-tipped foam darts. It was succeeded in 2012 with the N-Strike Elite line. Despite being the “basic” line, N-Strike guns ranged from simple “pistol” style blasters to the N-Strike Vulcan, a Nerf Gatling gun that’s fed by a long ammo belt. Due to their discontinuation in 2012, N-Strike products are often incredibly expensive to purchase in a sealed, original box.

2. N-Strike Elite

N strike elite

As of 2012, the N-Strike Elite line has replaced the N-Strike line as Nerf ‘s main blaster series. It features improved internal engineering, resulting in darts that can travel up to 75 feet. Like N-Strike, the N-Strike Elite line includes simple, human-powered toy guns like the Strongarm, a revolver-esque rotating pistol, and complex, battery-operated automatic blasters like the Rapidstrike, which is styled after an automatic rifle. Other products include the Rampage, a drum-fed automatic blaster, and the Rhino-Fire, a turret-mounted toy gun that shoots darts from two drum-fed barrels.

3. Elite XD

XDRETALIATOR

A variant line of N-Strike Elite, Elite XD features blasters with different external designs than N-Strike Elite. The internal mechanisms of these guns tend to be quite similar to standard N-Strike Elite toys.

4. N-Strike Mega

N strike Mega

Older N-Strike Mega products were branded under N-Strike and N-Strike Elite product lines, but they’ve been moved to their own category since then. N-Strike Mega blasters are marketed as firing farther than other products, and use special extra-large red darts that whistle as they travel. The guns themselves are almost always red and feature distinctive oversized barrels to accommodate the larger darts.

You might like: 7 Best Motorized NERF Guns

5. N-Strike Modulus

N Strike Modulus

This N-Strike Elite sub-line features modular guns that can be assembled into different configurations by the user. Many products feature blasters that can be assembled into one big gun or broken apart to create multiple individual toys. The Tri-Strike, for example, has a “missile launcher” that can be attached to the top of the main blaster and a smaller pistol that can be attached to the front to extend the barrel.

You might like: 8 Best Long Range NERF Guns

6. Zombie Strike

Zombie Strike Nerf

Zombie Strike blasters are mostly re-imagined N-Strike Elite blasters with a rugged, improvised theme. They’re great for any situation where you want to pretend you’re using something you hacked together in a backyard to hold off hordes of zombies.

You might like: 12 Best Zombie Strike NERF Guns

7. AccuStrike Series

Nerf AccuStrike Series

Another offshoot of N-Strike Elite, AccuStrike blasters come with unique rifled darts that are more accurate than standard N-Stike darts. The inner workings of the guns are much the same, however, and the spinning action results in less range when the guns are fired.

8. Vortex

Nerf Vortex

Unlike the blasters above, Nerf Vortex products fire foam-wrapped plastic discs. Vortex guns can fire farther than dart-based blasters and the projectiles can ricochet off of walls and continue traveling through the air.

9. Alpha Strike

Nerf Alpha Strike

Alpha Strike is Hasbro’s budget, entry-level Nerf gun range. These blasters aren’t as well-made or creatively designed as N-Strike Elite products, but they’re a great way to expand your arsenal without spending a lot of money.

10. RIVAL

Nerf Rival

Nerf RIVAL is targeted at older kids, teenagers, and adults. The blasters tend to be more expensive and offer better performance, shooting “high-impact rounds” (or special foam balls) at higher velocities. Some RIVAL blasters are available in both red and blue, enabling teams in organized Nerf activities to distinguish themselves from each other based on the color of their weaponry.

You might like: 8 Best NERF Rival Guns


FAQ About Nerf Guns

1. What does ‘Nerf’ stand for?

The term “Nerf” is thought to originate from off-road racing, where it refers to a type of foam not unlike the foam used in Nerf balls and darts. It stands for “non-expanding recreational foam.” It’s not clear if the acronym came before or after the term “nerf.” Many people think that the word came first and the clever set of words starting with the right letters was found afterward.

2. Can Nerf guns hurt you?

It’s not completely impossible for a Nerf gun to cause injury, but you’re much more likely to be injured by a Nerf-related trip and fall than by being hit by a dart. The force of a moving object depends on two important variables: its mass and its velocity. Nerf darts weigh about 140 times less than a baseball. This means a dart would have to be traveling very, very fast in order to cause injury. 

Very rough math suggests that the impact force of a Nerf dart when it leaves a typical blaster is comparable to that of a baseball being thrown at 5 miles an hour. As the dart leaves the blaster that force decreases dramatically, as the dart slows down due to air resistance.

3. How does a Nerf gun work?

Nerf guns accumulate compressed air in a chamber within the gun and then release it when the trigger is pulled. Many modern Nerf guns use a plunger attached to a spring to supply this air, but others use pumps or even electric motors to supply the compressed air.

Nerf blasters tend to iterate on this design in creative and complicated ways. Some guns have multiple barrels, enabling darts to be fired in sequence, while others have revolving chambers or magazines that feed fresh darts to the firing apparatus. These blasters often utilize creative engineering tricks to control the flow of compressed air and get it to the right dart at the right time.

4. How much is a Nerf gun?

Basic Nerf guns are between $10 and $20, while more complex guns, guns licensed from media sources, and playsets can be between $50 and $150 or more. The most expensive Nerf guns often have very impressive performance, like the Nerf Rival Prometheus MXVIII-20K, which has a 200 round hopper and can fire 8 rounds a second with the power from its rechargeable lithium battery. In general, though, arming a party of children for Nerf-based fun can cost as little as $15 per child. Arming your office of young professionals with battery-based automatic weapons could run you upwards of $150 per person, depending on the blasters you choose.

5. Who invented Nerf guns? 

Lonnie Johnson, a US Air Force veteran and NASA engineer, was responsible for the invention of both the Super Soaker and the Nerf blaster. Johnson first invented the water gun and then replaced the water with air, using the pneumatic force to fire small foam darts.

6. What is the biggest Nerf gun? 

The largest Nerf gun was created by Mark Rober, a Sunnyvale, California-based mechanical engineer. Rober created a 6 ft long replica of a common handheld NERF blaster. The gun used a compressed gas canister to fire a dart made from a pool noodle and a toilet plunger.

The longest Nerf gun you can currently buy is the Thunderhawk, a blaster with a telescoping front section that extends to 41 inches long.

So there you have it. Everything you always wanted to know about Nerf guns in one informative and insightful post. Let us know if you’ve got any other questions about Nerf blasters that you’d like us to answer here!