Fend off zombies, do a little target practice, and engage in all-out Nerf war…all with little foam darts or balls that are safe and easy to use. If this sounds fun, that’s because it is! Nerf is one of my favorite hobbies for many reasons: It’s social, it’s active, and it’s exciting.
In my family, we grew up with Nerf guns (or “blasters”) and were always running around on some sort of Star Wars-inspired Nerf mission. We played Nerf freeze tag, Nerf hide-and-seek, Nerf capture the flag, and of course, the classic Nerf war, which for us was basically a free-for-all.
Read on if you’re interested in buying a blaster or two and getting into this amazing hobby. This guide will walk you through:
- The origins of Nerf
- Where to play
- What equipment you need
- How to stay safe
- Some popular games and challenges
History and Trivia
Back in 1969, inventor Reyn Guyer approached toy manufacturing company Parker Brothers to pitch an indoor volleyball game he had created. What made this game safe for indoor play? The use of foam balls.
Parker Brothers liked the idea of foam toys that people could play with inside, so they took that idea and ran with it. It would still take about 20 years for someone to think of making little foam darts that could be fired from blasters though!
Eventually, the Parker Brothers company was absorbed into Hasbro, which now owns Nerf (or NERF).
- Hasbro naturally has to try out all its blasters and other equipment before they go on the market. So, they have testing facilities where employees get to try brand-new prototypes. I’m guessing competition for those jobs is fierce.
- Hundreds of millions of nerf darts are manufactured every year. A few years ago, someone calculated the total number of nerf darts ever made and came up with a staggering 4+ billion. Today, I’d bet that number is over 5 billion.
- In addition to Nerf, Hasbro also owns Super Soaker (the famous water guns) and popular games like Monopoly. If you’ve owned toys or games at all recently, there’s a decent chance some came from Hasbro.
- Nerf has had a ton of slogans over the years: “It’s NERF or Nothin’!” “Get Real. Get NERF.” “There’s Only One Nerf.” Those are just a few.
Now let’s get into the practical information you need to know to get started Nerf-ing.
Where to play
Some families enjoy having low-key Nerf wars in the basement, or in any large enough room that’s empty of valuables and breakables. You can also do target practice inside, no problems. Simply set up some cans, bottles, or similar targets, and fire away!
There are even offices that host Nerf wars for their employees. I’ve never been fortunate enough to experience this, but I’d imagine it’s very satisfying way to blow off work-related steam.
If you have a backyard, that’s another great place to indulge your Nerf hobby. As a kid, I attended many, many backyard birthday parties involving Nerf guns.
Now what if you have bigger ambitions in mind? How about planning an all-out Nerf war? I’ll explain how to go about finding a public outdoors space to host your event.
You need a space that is:
- Big enough to accommodate all participants.
- Legally available for use—no trespassing!
- Mostly free from other people.
Other considerations: Obstacles and cover. The best Nerf wars aren’t fought in straight lines on open fields. It’s way more fun if you can sneak around, hide behind trees, take cover, and so on. Even just some trees, bushes, benches, and trash cans will make a big difference. If there’s no natural or on-site cover, you can get creative and bring your own.
Avoid playing in gardens or in parks with a lot of landscaping. You don’t want to get in trouble for messing up all the flowers.
If you have a particular space in mind, check if you can reserve it in advance. Otherwise, you’ll pretty much have to show up and hope it’s not too crowded. Stack the odds in your favor by scheduling your game for an “off-time” (say, on a weekday evening instead of a Saturday afternoon). Try to have a back-up location in mind, so your plans don’t rely on only one park.
So, let’s say you have the perfect place in mind: A park area with some trees for cover, plus access to public restrooms. It’s usually not too crowded on weekdays, so you’re thinking of planning a Tuesday afternoon game.
Now what about permissions? Just because a park or other site is “public” doesn’t always mean you can use it in any way you want. Different parks, neighborhoods, and cities have different rules and regulations. It’s always a good idea to check with your local parks department. This page has great advice on how to do that.
I also suggest letting your local police department know what you’re up to. There’s a chance that onlookers may misinterpret your Nerf war or think that you have actual weapons. You can lower the odds of this by steering clear of realistic paint mods (blasters come in bright colors, and they should stay that way to prevent misunderstandings).
By getting permission from your local park, and notifying the police department of your plans in advance, you and your friends will be able to enjoy your Nerf war uninterrupted!
Equipment requirements are simple. You will need:
- At least one Nerf gun: Typically, purchase of a blaster will come with necessary extras to get started, including foam darts.
- Protective glasses: It’s important to protect your eyes, and many Nerf groups make eye protection mandatory to ensure players’ safety.
And then there are some fun accessories that you can pick up if you (or your kids) get super into Nerf:
- Extra clips: These provide you with some additional darts and, importantly, allow you to reload quickly. No one wants to spend all their time reloading!
- Target practice set: Test your aim with a little target practice. This is a fun game to play at birthday parties, to engage in a little friendly competition, or to improve your aim for the next Nerf war. You’ll finally know for sure if your blaster shoots accurately—and if it tends to shoot a little high, low, or off to one side, you’ll know how to compensate.
- Extra blasters: I always like to have a backup blaster or two, just in case.
How to choose a blaster
There are a few factors to keep in mind when choosing your Nerf gun:
- Power: Children will generally need a lower-powered blaster than teens and adults.
- Speed: How fast can you fire off darts? How often do you need to reload?
- Accuracy: Does the blaster actually shoot where you’re aiming?
- Ease of use: Does it work smoothly, without jamming? Can you fire with just one hand, or do you need two? Does it fit your grip comfortably?
- Noise: Quieter models allow for sneak attacks.
- Cost: You should expect to pay between $15 and $50 for your blaster, with some fancier models selling for $60 to $100.
- Extra features: Some blasters come with extra bells and whistles, like foam grenades, and some offer unique shapes and designs (for example, crossbows and slingshots).
The best way to make your choice is to try as many blasters as you can. If your friends are into Nerf, ask if you can try their blasters out.
If you don’t have access to tons of blasters, then you can make an educated decision with a little research. Thanks to YouTube, it’s pretty easy nowadays to watch videos of just about any model in action and evaluate how well it seems to perform.
Choosing a main blaster
How do I choose? For my main blaster, I prioritize ammo capacity—I don’t want to run out of ammo fast or need to waste precious time reloading often. I also need a blaster that’s accurate at a reasonable distance. And finally, user-friendliness is essential, since experiencing constant jams is frustrating.
So, models like the Nerf N-Strike Elite HyperFire Blaster or the Nerf N-Strike Elite 2-in-1 Demolisher are excellent picks. Both are capable of around a 90-foot range. The motorized HyperFire has a 25-dart drum and fires darts off super-fast, while the Demolisher, also motorized, comes with a 10-dart clip and can fire foam grenades too.
10 darts might not sound like a ton, but remember that you can get extra clips with greater capacity (18+ darts) that you can use to reload quickly.
At a somewhat higher price point, there are blasters like the Nerf Rival Nemesis MXVII-10K, which has a “hopper” loading system that can fit 100 high-impact rounds. Yes, 100. Note that these rounds are more like little foam balls (rather than cylindrical darts).
The Rival Nemesis combines high capacity with quick reload, which means you’ll spend more time blasting your Nerf enemies and way less time refueling.
More affordable but still in the Rival line: Nerf Rival Artemis XVII-3000. This model holds 30 rounds in a rotating barrel, which is relatively quick to reload.
The muzzle velocity on both Rival models is 100fps (feet-per-second)—I’ll discuss muzzle velocity and safety below, but for now, I’ll point out that this is quite a high velocity (though still safe) and therefore high-power Nerf blaster. The Nerf Rival line is aimed at the 14+ crowd, so keep these away from small children.
As you can tell from just this brief overview, there are tons of options out there. Different blasters have different capacities, loading mechanisms, firing speed, and so on. The more you’re able to try out different blasters, the greater sense you’ll have for your own preferences and priorities.
Choosing a backup blaster
For my backup blasters, I go with models that I can use one-handed. Since my main blasters can be quite noisy, I usually choose a quiet backup that I can use for stealth attacks. And finally, I like a smaller backup blaster, since carrying two bulky guns at once is a bit much. Plus, smaller, simpler blasters are less expensive.
The Nerf Zombie Strike Hammershot Blaster or something similar is the ideal backup blaster. It’s small, lightweight, and easy to use—you can blast away one-handed. The only real downside: The chamber only holds 5 rounds. However, reloading this blaster is very fast and easy.
Blasters for kids
For young kids (7 and under), there are additional things to think about. Young children will do best with a blaster that is:
- Lightweight: Heavier, motorized models are often unwieldy for small kids, so get something small and light that they can carry around easily.
- Easy to use: Try to pick a blaster that kids can load and reload independently.
- Lower power: Until children have the physical coordination and maturity to play responsibly (no headshots!), I’d recommend sticking with lower-power models. Look for blasters that have muzzle velocities of 75fps or less.
On the plus side, lighter, smaller, lower-power models are significantly less expensive, often selling for under $10. A couple good options include the Nerf N-Strike Elite Jolt Blaster (small, lightweight, single-shot) and the Nerf N-Strike Elite Strongarm Blaster (easy to load, holds 6 darts).
What about the crossbows?
There are some pretty cool Nerf crossbow options on the market. If you or your kids want to go old-school with some medieval-inspired weapons, then a Nerf crossbow might be perfect!
One drawback is that the crossbow arms make it slightly less compact than comparable blaster models, and in my experience, it’s a little slower at firing rounds in quick succession. On the plus side, the crossbows I’ve tried have been quite accurate, and I like that some have the ability to take ammo clips. And they look cool!
As with most hobbies, Nerf is usually very safe, but there are some basic precautions to take. If you plan to play with Nerf guns with your family, then you’ll probably want to modify your safety rules and precautions depending on the ages of your children.
Treat your Nerf gun as you would any other weapon.
Sure, Nerf guns are filled with soft foam “bullets,” but there’s really no reason not to develop good, common-sense habits. For example:
- When in doubt, assume the gun is loaded.
- Do not leave your loaded blaster lying around.
- Do not look down the barrel.
- Keep your finger off the trigger when you’re not firing, and don’t point it at anyone unless you intend to fire.
No head shots.
The main danger that Nerf guns pose is that pretty much anything—even soft, squishy foam—hurts when it hits you in the eye. So when you’re engaged in Nerf war, make sure to aim for the torso and avoid shooting at anyone’s face or head.
If you’re supervising kids, make sure they know and follow the rules: Heads are off-limits.
Consider using eye protection.
Safety glasses are a simple, cheap way to protect your eyes.
Don’t shoot animals.
Obviously. Whether they’re your pets or backyard squirrels, animals deserve to go about their lives without the interruptions of a Nerf war. If you’re parenting a Nerf kid, this is definitely a rule to enforce.
Be considerate and aware of your surroundings.
Say you’re playing outside in your front yard or in a public area where there are other people walking by. No matter how much fun you’re having, make sure to stay aware of your surroundings.
Don’t run into people or let stray foam bullets hit bystanders. If you’re in a crowded area, it’s probably best to put your blaster down and find another place to play. If you’re near a road, make sure you’re not impeding traffic or endangering yourself.
And as I mentioned up above, no trespassing!
Do not engage in Nerf wars while driving.
Seriously just don’t.
Avoid dangerous modifications.
I’ll discuss modifications at greater length in the next section. Mods can be a lot of fun and allow you personalize your blaster. But some people take it too far, and you really don’t want to be one of them. Hasbro, the company that makes Nerf products, advises against any mods due to potential safety concerns.
For example, take muzzle velocity: Different blasters will fire off bullets at different speeds, and of course the faster the speed, the more powerful the blaster.
Simple blasters designed for younger kids are typically low-power, which is great for safety. More advanced blasters may have muzzle velocities of around 75fps (feet per second), which is quite fast. The Nerf Rival Nemesis blaster I mentioned above has a velocity of around 100fps—fast and powerful.
With mods, you could potentially take a blaster up to around 125fps. Don’t go further than this. An overly powerful blaster is dangerous, and many organized games ban blasters with excessive muzzle velocity or other risky modifications.
I also advise against modifying your bullets to make them heavier or more painful when they make contact. It’s unnecessary and also often forbidden from organized events.
Finally, some people modify their blasters to make them look more like real guns. I strongly recommend not doing realistic paint mods. People have called the police due to Nerf blasters that resembled real guns. Realistic paint mods are unsafe and also illegal in some areas.
What modifications can you make to your brand-new blaster? And why make any mods at all?
People typically modify their blasters so that they shoot further and faster, and when done with care, this can teach you more about how your blaster works and increase its performance (up to a reasonable level such as 120fps). Many people also like to alter the appearance of their blasters, which is a fun creative outlet.
If you’re determined to modify your blaster, I suggest checking out the advice here on performing modifications safely. The bottom line: Do your research, keep track of all parts so that you’re able to reassemble the blaster, and proceed carefully and meticulously with a reliable tutorial. If you’re under 18, consult with an adult about your intended mod.
If you’re planning to host a Nerf war, here’s a piece on deciding which mods to allow and which to ban from your event.
Now for the fun part: Games. There are tons of different games and challenges that you can play with a Nerf blaster or two. Here are some of the most popular ones:
It’s a classic for a reason. Nerf wars can take many forms. They can be held indoors or outdoors, in basements, offices, gymnasiums, parks, forests, backyards, college campuses…the list goes on.
Often, Nerf wars are simple shootout-style activities that last until the participants are exhausted or everyone’s lost all their darts.
If you’re a diehard Nerf fan, however, you can participate in larger and more organized events, often hosted by university clubs, local Nerf communities, or the Nerf Internet Community (NIC), which comprises a number of Nerf enthusiast websites.
Here are just a few examples of groups that host organized Nerf events:
- San Diego Nerf Club in California
- Bay Area Urban Recreational Nerf (BURN) in California
- Rochester Foam Dart League in New York
- Houston Area Nerfers Unite in Texas
And here are a few places that can be booked if you want an all-out Nerf war for your next birthday party, or if you’re interested in going to Nerf camp:
Humans vs. Zombies
Humans vs. Zombies (HvZ) is incredibly popular on college campuses. The basic premise: Zombies attack! Any humans they tag become zombies too. Humans must fight to survive, pelting zombies with foam darts to stun them long enough to escape. The game ends either when all the humans have become brain-eating zombies, or when there still remain some surviving humans after a set length of time.
Some games involve hundreds of participants and take place over multiple days. In these cases, humans can often retreat to “safe zones” where they can eat, sleep, and attend classes in peace.
Nerf Capture the Flag
You may already be familiar with Capture the Flag from elementary school gym class. In this game, you’ll need at least a handful of people, enough to form two teams. You also need a decently sized field; a soccer field, park, or big backyard works well.
Each team aims to protect its own “flag” (often a colored shirt or towel) and steal the flag of the opposing team. The field is split down the middle, and the flags are stationed on opposite ends. So, to capture the flag, you’ll need to venture into enemy territory, making you vulnerable to being stopped and put in “jail.”
In a traditional game of Capture the Flag, you stop other people by tagging them. In the Nerf variation, you stop them by getting them with a foam dart—I actually find this way more challenging than simply tagging them!
Once caught, the player must go to jail, often a location in the back corner of the field (on the side of the opposing team). Their teammates can liberate them by tagging them.
The game ends when one team captures an enemy flag and brings it back to their side of the field.
Soda Can Challenge
You can use soda cans, bottles, cups—pretty much anything for this competition. Stack up some cans and take turns aiming. Mix it up by setting different goals each round: Can you knock down the whole tower with a single dart? Can you hit a specific can?
Increase the challenge by attaching strings to your targets and hanging them up, then giving them a good shake to get them moving. See who among your family and friends is most adept at hitting a moving target!
Who knew you can make interesting abstract art with a Nerf gun and some acrylic paint?! Sure, you probably won’t be selling your art for millions, but this “game” is an awesome arts and crafts activity.
Simply dip your Nerf darts in acrylic paint, then load them up and blast them at a poster board. Note: some models of Nerf guns have loading/firing mechanisms that work better than others for this activity.
To get ideas for more awesome Nerf games, check out the lists here and here. With a little creativity, you’ll find that there are dozens upon dozens of different games you can play with a few friends and some blasters. Popular games like tag, hide-and-seek, sharks and minnows, and more can all be adapted to incorporate Nerf guns.
Big, organized Nerf wars are incredibly fun and exhilarating, but Nerf can also be a low-key way to bond with your family. Once you get into Nerf, it’s only a matter of time before rogue foam darts start taking over your basement and you have the sudden “need” for a third (or fourth…) backup blaster.
Have fun out there and good luck in your next Nerf war!