As a kid, I strapped a Nerf gun to my bicycle so I could dive bomb the neighbourhood kids while travelling -- I imagined -- at five times the speed of sound. As an adult, I've carried a foam-firing blaster to no fewer than three jobs. But a funny thing happened earlier this year: I realised my old guns weren't any good anymore.
They hadn't worn out. (Well, most of them anyways; my Sharpshooter II was toast.) It was just that toy blasters had evolved when I wasn't looking. Now, they shoot farther, faster, and lay down more fire than ever before. You can buy a freaking fully-automatic Nerf machine gun now. I clearly needed to up my game. But how to arm myself?
War has changed. I've found that whether you're wresting control of the office from nefarious colleagues or dominating friends at the park, a single-shot sidearm won't cut it anymore. The wonderful part about foam warfare is that you can dodge bullets like Neo in The Matrix. The hard part: so can anyone else. Since statistically, you're going to miss most of the time, you need a blaster with lots of shots, or one that can pick off foes before they get close. So I went looking for the fastest, most accurate Nerf guns that don't require constant reloading.
Darts, compared. Nerf micro darts (center) are currently the most common.
The other thing I discovered is that it's not "Nerf or Nothing" anymore: some toy weapons from rival companies are worth checking out. I actually found Mattel's straw-like Boom.Co darts superior to Nerf in important ways: they're heavy enough to stay on target and retain their shape after abuse, unlike Hasbro's deterioriating foam.
I took my blasters to actual Nerf wars hosted by Bay Area Nerf. I made new friends, and I shot them with toy guns. These are the blasters that served me best.
The Best Overall: Nerf Demolisher 2-in-1
The $65 Nerf Demolisher is my top recommendation for any serious Nerf war. It's a semi-automatic assault rifle with a 10-dart clip and a bonus underbarrel grenade launcher. Like some of Nerf's other blasters, it uses four AA batteries to drive a pair of flywheels which spit out a dart each time you pull the trigger. But the Demolisher shoots further and more accurately than any other flywheel blaster I tried. It's also one of the best built, with smooth triggers and a grip comfortable enough for adults. Unfortunately, it's also extremely noisy: you won't be sneaking up on anyone while the flywheels are revving.
I haven't actually hit anyone with the foam grenade yet, and I doubt you will very easily, but it's a nice big projectile that can force foes to dodge while you pepper them with darts instead. Just know that you'll need to buy some additional 18-dart clips to keep this blaster fed.
The Best for Dual Wielders: Nerf Rebelle Rapid Red
Yes, it's pink. Get over it: the $38 Rebelle Rapid Red is one of the best toy blasters ever made. Like the Demolisher, it's a semi-auto clip-fed flywheel blaster that takes 4 AA batteries, except you can use it one-handed. Or why not one in each hand to dish out double the damage? It's the same idea as the cheaper Stryfe, but smoother, quieter, and more accurate. When I ran with a Stryfe and a Rapid Red side by-side, I found myself hitting foes far more often with the pink blaster.
Plus, the Rapid Red comes with a genuinely useful 12-shot clip. The Stryfe's bundled 6-shot mag is too small to be much good in the heat of battle.
The Best For Sneak Attacks: Nerf Elite Alpha Trooper or Rampage
The problem with flywheel blasters is that they're noisy. You can't sneak up on anyone. But the Nerf Elite Alpha Trooper uses a good ol' spring-loaded mechanism. You get the same interchangeable clips as the noisy blasters, and you can still fire fairly rapidly by pumping the handle while holding down the trigger. Sadly, it's almost impossible to find the Alpha Trooper online and I haven't seen it recently in stores, but the Nerf Rampage is the same gun with slightly different handles, a slightly awkward side-loading magazine well, and a larger 25-dart drum for your money.
The one thing to remember with spring-loaded clip-fed blasters is that you can't just rip the clip out when it's empty: you've gotta prime the handle halfway. Also, neither of these shoot as far as the Demolisher unless you mod them. Which I highly recommend.
The Best Backup Gun: Nerf Hammershot / Rebelle Sweet Revenge
If your primary blaster uses clips, you're going to want a sidearm when those clips inevitably run out. If your primary blaster is noisy and you see an opportunity to sneak up on someone, you'll need a backup gun. I'd pick the Rebelle Sweet Revenge or the Nerf Hammershot. They're basically identical, which is great because they share one of the best designs Nerf has ever conceived: a five-shot revolver that only requires a single hand to operate. Which means you don't have to drop that primary blaster when you pull out your backup.
The only real differences between the Hammershot and Sweet Revenge are slightly different ergonomics, and the fact that the pink gun comes with a (cheap plastic) holster in the box. Nerf sells a fabric holster for the Hammershot too though.
The Best Pocket Gun: Boom.Co Farshot
I hit more foes with this single-shot muzzle-loading handgun than every other Boom.Co blaster combined. That's because it's the Noisy Cricket of the toy blaster world, with an unbelievable amount of power and unheard-of accuracy for its size.
Foes would stand still when I pulled out the diminutive pistol out of a pocket, figuring there was no way in hell I'd be able to reach them with a dart. But sure enough, the $20 Farshot lives up to its name. Only heavily modded Nerf blasters will be able to touch you at the distance you can snipe them from. For the price and size, it's worth carrying a Farshot into battle even if nobody else is using Boom.Co darts.
The Best at a Distance: Zing Sky Ripperz
It's not a gun. It's not a bow. It's a slingshot, I guess? Regardless, it's hands-down the best toy weapon for picking off foes at a distance. The $22 Zing Sky Ripperz gives you three foam-tipped whistling arrows and a bungie cord rated to send them soaring 76m into the air. Which translates to accurate ranges of over 30m, according to Blaster Labs. I didn't do any scientific testing, but I can tell you that they go the distance, and they go where I aim. They're strictly for adults though: they hit hard enough that I'd think twice about giving them to a kid.
The Most Badass: Nerf Rhino-Fire
Expensive? Yes. Impractical? Almost always. But there's nothing like raining down 50 rounds of flying foam death from dual drum magazines and twin oscillating barrels. If you can afford the $250 Nerf Rhino-Fire and your top priority is looking cool, accept no substitutes. [Full review]
Boom.Co Rapid Madness
The Rapid Madness is the most solidly constructed toy blaster I've ever used, and its 20-dart clip-fed barrage is guaranteed to take out targets at close range. But reloading means pumping the hefty priming handle sixteen times and inserting the clip just right.
Boom.Co Stealth Ambush
At first it seems like the best thing ever: a clip-fed, far-firing semiautomatic blaster complete with a hidden three-dart shotgun that springs to life when you need it most. In reality, the only one who'll be surprised by the Stealth Ambush is you. Its undersized eight-dart clip is empty in no time flat, and the poorly planned "Ambush" was often sprung even when I didn't want it to.
Boom.Co Twisted Spinner
I couldn't reliably hit a target with the Twisted Spinner from 3m away. The blaster forces you to pull its two handles together to fire any of its eight darts, which means zero stability.
The whip-like ratcheting action of this blaster is pretty cool, letting you cock the oversized pistol with a single hand. But what's the point when you can't fire a second shot without a second hand to load a dart into the muzzle? Not pocketable either.
Buzz Bee Toys
I couldn't get excited about a single blaster from this brand. All of them look utterly cheap.
Dart Zone Covert Ops Scorpion
This tiny belt-fed gatling gun fires 20 fully automatic darts farther than you'd expect. Shame so few of them went where I was aiming. Also, the darts are ridiculously cheap, and Nerf replacements don't fire reliably.
This semi-automatic clip-fed flywheel blaster is quieter and better constructed than the Demolisher, but doesn't shoot quite as far. Nerf charges a crazy premium for its terrible built-in camera and solid build quality.
Costs more than the Hammershot, but you can't use it one-handed and only get four shots instead of five. Cool design though.
Imagine if the Hammershot was tiny, but only had two barrels, and the darts fell out easily, and they didn't shoot very far, and the blaster felt cheap and unsatisfying, and generally everything was terrible.
Nerf Elite Firestrike
A satisfying, comfortable, accurate single-shot pistol that's small enough to fit in a pocket. But it's not as accurate or satisfying as the Boom.Co Farshot, and you can't prime it with one hand like the Hammershot.
Nerf Elite Rayven
Another semi-auto flywheel blaster with a cool bullpup design, and which shoots 18 glow-in-the-dark darts from a battery-powered clip. Not bad for the money, but it can't stand up to the Demolisher for just a little more cash.
Nerf brought back this bolt-action clip-fed design for 2014, but without improving how well it can shoot. Blaster Labs measured terribly short ranges for what's supposedly a sniper rifle.
For some reason, this last-gen six-shot revolver is still on sale. It was a pretty iffy gun when it came out and is still pretty iffy today. It's been made completely obsolete by the similar Strongarm, anyway.
Nerf Mega Centurion
How far would you expect a giant Nerf sniper rifle to shoot? "Not as far as many Nerf pistols" is a terrible answer. User reviews also complain of frequent jams, and it doesn't help to have interchangeable clips if you can't buy any extras.
Nerf Mega Magnus
This giant honking pistol makes me feel like Judge Dredd. "I AM THE LAW." But it only holds three giant honking Mega Darts, and is super awkward to reload. Fun for dueling with a friend though.
Nerf Mega Thunderbow
The furthest firing official Nerf gun yet, you can get some serious range from this giant blaster. What's harder is hitting your foes: the Thunderbow doesn't actually fire the instant you loose the string, and it's tough to aim. I'd get Sky Ripperz instead.
Unlike most other flywheel blasters, the Rapidstrike is fully automatic. Comfy handle and retractable stock too. But out of the box, it fired SLOWER than my semi-auto toys. Unless you have the soldering skills to mod it, the Demolisher's a better choice.
Nerf Rebelle Messenger
Another great pistol that requires two hands. Less comfortable than the Firestrike, but you get three shots before you need to reload instead of one. No reason to pick it over a Hammershot or Sweet Revenge unless you need concealability.
A spring-loaded, clip-fed alternative to the Rampage or Elite Alpha Trooper, it's a decent value with a 12-shot clip. But racking back the slide is slower and awkward compared to those other toy weapons.
A Nerf shotgun that holds eight darts and can fire one or two at a time? Sounds great! But unless you cock the gun just right, it refuses to fire. You just stand there with a stupid look on your face. The darts can fall out of the barrels when you run too.
Another Nerf shotgun that fires three darts at a time from special "shotgun shells". You only get three in the box, although you can buy more. I'll take clips any day of the week.
I had high hopes for this lever-action spring-loaded clip-fed rifle, but it's not terribly great. The lever's too flimsy to use one-handed, reloading is awkward, and it only comes with a measly 1.8m clip
A weak and bulky five-shot revolver that requires two hands instead of one. It comes with a "silencer" and a folding stock, but you will be better off with a Sweet Revenge or a Hammershot.
A flywheel blaster that doesn't take clips, with a cool detachable stock that holds ten darts. Both make it easier to reload on the fly. But the noisy motors have an on-off switch instead of a trigger, so they will always hear you coming, and it doesn't shoot far.
The more reliable follow-up to the Maverick, it's a six-shot revolver that's giant, chunky, and requires two hands to prime. It feels cheap and hollow, and doesn't have nearly enough power for the size.
If you can't find the Rebelle Rapid Red, the very similar Stryfe should suffice. I didn't find it as smooth, quiet or accurate, and I wouldn't pick it over a Hammershot unless you plan to replace its 6-round clip with a 12 or 18-shot one.
Like the Rebelle Messenger, you get three shots without reloading, but you still need two hands to prime. It's also harder to aim and not as easy as you'd think to pocket due to the bulging design.
Nerf Vortex Series
Hasbro's line of disc-based blasters, which seem to be dwindling as of late. A few, like this Fusefire, are still widely available, but require you to load one disc at a time and convince your friends to buy them too if you want to trade fire.
Zing Firetek Bow
I'd hoped this would be an even easier-to-aim version of the Zing Sky Ripperz, but the arrows don't fly nearly as far. They do, however, have little red LEDs that can make them glow in the dark.
Guardians of the Galaxy Star-Lord Quad Blaster and Captain America Stealthfire Shield
No. No. Only if you're into cosplay.
Seriously, these don't shoot worth a damn.