It's Nerf or nothin'. The song of many of our childhoods. Although Nerf itself is a brand, "Nerf guns" is a term colloquially used to refer to most any soft-projectile gun type toy. And although we did test several products from the Nerf brand offering, surprisingly none of them made it to the victory circle after our rigorous testing.
As brands go, Zuru-owned X-Shot products overall seem to fare better than the official Nerf products. Of course, as you'll read in the following passages, it's actually neither of these brands that end up with the most accolades here. I've got the hard data to show which guns rule and which ones drool. Strap in and don those goggles!
So, I'm walking through a retail store one afternoon and I see this package of two Nerf-style blasters that were marked down to $15 for the pair. I figured they were so cheap because they weren't any good. Boy, was I wrong.
The X-Shot Fury 4 is an awesome blaster. And you get two of them for the price of one! The only real complaint you might have about these is the fact that the rotating barrel only holds four darts at a time. But, that might be enough to get the job done anyway.
The Fury 4 had the highest average velocity of our blaster models, only one of the single-shot rifles was faster -- same for the multi-shot rifles. It also showed above-average performance in our distance and accuracy tests. In an all-out Nerf war, I'm probably picking something with a higher dart capacity, or at least magazines you can switch out quickly. But, if you're in a high-stakes, wild west showdown, I'm reaching for this blaster first.
The X-Shot Dino Attack Claw Hunter is another case where my only real complaint is that you have to manually reload it frequently since it only holds two darts simultaneously.
The Zuru X-Shot Dino Attack Claw Hunter has the highest average velocity of any non-battery-powered unit we tested and the second-highest average distance of any model we tested. It did fall a little short in the accuracy tests overall, but this gun just feels great to use. Just ask Ruby, one of our kid testers. She picked this gun up when she walked in the door, and we practically had to pry it out of her hands to let anyone else use it!
As of when this is published, it's on Amazon for $20. Get it. Especially if you're looking to put the hurt on something -- I mean, it is part of the Dino Attack series. I'm guessing you want mega velocity if you're going to take on a T-Rex.
This gun looks cool. Being a major Arnold Schwarzenegger fan growing up, I'll take any excuse to reenact a Terminator 2 scene with this mini gun, some shades and one of the worst Austrian accents to date.
With the Zuru X-Shot Excel Crusher, I can't really make any of the same complaints I've made above about insufficient dart quantity. This thing has an auto-rotating ammo belt with a 35-dart capacity. I wasn't initially very excited about this gun's performance. It tested in the lower half of average velocity speeds and that made for poor performance in the distance tests. It did, however, place third overall in our accuracy and consistency tests.
Fast-forward to the end of our testing period, and the last remaining piece of our Nerf-style gun evaluations was to host a game of Capture the Flag in our testing facility. I was busy setting up the course and whatnot, so by the time I made it to the gun selection table, most of the obvious picks were gone -- the Fury 4s, the Dino Attack, sniper rifles, etc. So I was stuck with the mini gun. And... I... Dominated. And learned an important lesson in the process.
Dart capacity is a major consideration for these types of events. I had enough darts readily available to fire that I could lay down merciless suppressing fire and allow my teammates to achieve our goal. If I find myself in another Nerf war draft, the Crusher will be my first pick.
OK. I will try to make this as short as reasonably possible. The TL;DR here is that the Dart Zone Pro-Series MK-3 Motorized Flywheel Pro Dart Blaster (whew!) beat the rest of these guns like Mike Tyson versus your 8-year-old nephew.
I had several other categories planned for this list: Best Multi-shot Rifle, Best Motorized, Most Carnage, Best Accuracy, Longest Distance, etc. But the MK-3 took them all. So I summed it up with a Best Overall title, and now I'm here to sing its praises before moving on with my life.
To be fair, this gun did cost a bit more, and has the phrase "Pro-Series" in its title. However, we've all been fooled by similar monikers before, so I thought it deserved to be put to the test. It does have an optional full-auto firing mode and comes with both full- and half-size sport darts.
Partially due to this being a motorized unit, the velocity on the Pro Series MK-3 was more than quadruple the second-place contender. That massive velocity number naturally translates into greater distance on the course. We saw about a 30% increase in distance between this unit and the runner-up. The accuracy and consistency was just as impressive. With a score of 2.5 (lower is better), the half-size darts on the MK-3 are impressively consistent. The second place score was 3.4, with last place being 8.6.
With this much fire-power, it should be obvious but it bears stating outright: This gun is not for kids, and is recommended for ages 14 and up. If you qualify, I can tell you, this gun is super-satisfying to shoot. Because of its outstanding test scores, we disqualified this gun from use in our final Capture the Flag battle, because, you know, we didn't want to actually murder someone.
If you want the best, pick up the MK-3. Currently at $130 on Amazon.
Other Nerf-style guns we tested
: This is actually a great blaster, just not the best. It had the highest maximum blaster velocity and just missed on having the highest average. The disruptor also handily won the blaster distance tests, however, it did test with the second-lowest accuracy and consistency score overall.
: This motorized blaster was not well received. It had the lowest average blaster velocity and distance score, and tested third-worst overall in consistency and accuracy. Being motorized, you'd think this gun would outperform most of the purely mechanical models, but it just doesn't.
: Looks cool (I'm a zombie enthusiast) but performance is just OK. Its consistency and accuracy scores were good, but everything else fell just shy of average. Good aesthetic, but there are better blasters.
: With a break-action barrel, this rifle is fun to shoot. It scored squarely average in all our tests. You only get to load one dart at a time, so this might be a great option for younger Nerf enthusiasts that you might prefer to not constantly rain fury down upon you.
: Both the sniper rifles we tested were underwhelming. I'll say that the Nerf Longstrike Modulus felt more solid than the X-Shot option. Compared to the X-Shot however, its performance was just enough worse to be noticeable.
: Compared to the Nerf sniper option, this gun felt cheaper and more flimsy -- especially with all its stackable add-on pieces (at maximum build with all extensions in place, we experienced multiple misfires). But the numbers don't lie, and the Regenerator outperformed the Longstrike Modulus. That full build, misfires notwithstanding, did give us the second-best accuracy score from all units at 3.5.
: Appropriately named, the Mega Mastodon is big fun. It sports the highest non-MK-3 velocity, but its distance is still only average. That is likely partially due to the darts being larger, weighing over three times as much as the half-size MK-3 darts. The accuracy and consistency wasn't very impressive either. However, the darts whistle as they fly through the air! That's gotta be worth something, right??
How we test Nerf guns
Other than the general inspection phase, we have three main tests we run on these Nerf-style soft projectile toys.
First, we have the velocity test. We lock each unit in place, and fire 10 darts through a chronograph, which is a meter used to test projectile velocity. We toss out any obvious outliers, misfires, etc., and average the velocity of 10 good shots. We then compare the averages, and come up with a chart like the one shown below. There is a clear winner in the Dart Zone Pro-Series MK-3, even its longer dart trounces the competition. You can see that the Nerf Mega Mastodon clearly takes second place, and the scraps are fought over by most everyone else, with a slight edge to Zuru's X-Shot Dino Attack.
From there, we move to the distance tests. The test units are still locked in place, and we fire 10 darts down a long hallway. I have runners available when each shot is taken, and they will use tape to mark the floor with the spot each dart first touches the floor. We don't count bounces or rolls. Same as velocity measurements, we then average these scores to look at performance. In the following graph, you'll see that I've listed both the average distances for each gun, as well as the maximum achieved distance from each unit. Again, Dart Zone clearly takes the category with various supporters trailing.
I round out the testing with our accuracy and consistency test. I love this test because it is able to generate both comparative numerical data (number nerd here, if you hadn't noticed) as well as a cool visual graph. I've broken these graphs into three separate categories: Blasters, Single-shot rifles and Multi-shot rifles.
To run the tests, we fire five darts from each unit while they're still locked in place from the previous tests. Before each dart is fired, we press the tip against an ink pad. This leaves a very obvious mark on our target paper. After all five darts have left their mark, we measure the distances from dart 1 to each of the other four -- then from dart 2 to each of the other four, so on, and so forth. In averaging these numbers, we're left with a single consistency score that is comparable from unit to unit. The number is a measure of inches. This indicates how much variance, on average, you could expect to see from one dart to the next fired from the same unit.
For example, the variance in the half-size darts fired from the Dart Zone Pro-Series MK-3 is 2.5 (inches), while the less-consistent X-Shot Regenerator outfitted with the long barrel shows a variance of 8.6 (oddly enough, the same unit fully dressed only has a variance of 3.5 - the second-best consistency score).
I would be remiss to leave out this portion of the Nerf gun evaluations. We recruited three professional toy testers: 10-year-old Jackson, and Hamilton and Ruby, both 8. They were given the run of the lab for a day, ripping through hundreds, possibly thousands of darts fired (some directly at the testing staff!). At the end of the day, each of our subjects had strong opinions about their favorite gun.
I'll start with Ruby, who we'll henceforth refer to as the Nerf Clairvoyant. Ruby walked in, nearly immediately identified her favorite gun, the Zuru X-Shot Dino Attack Claw Hunter, and we silently laughed. She could barely pull back the plunger to fire it. How could she so love this two-dart-capacity gun that she could barely fire? Obviously a lack of information and experience plagued her. But, as the test results rolled in, the smiles disappeared from our faces as we realized that Ruby was indeed the chosen one. Chosen to lead us to one of the best guns we would end up testing. I imagine she sleeps with that gun under her pillow to this day.
Jackson chose the Nerf Longstrike Modulus. Even though this gun did not fare well in our formal testing, Jackson obviously has an exquisitely refined palate, choosing the most expensive nonmotorized unit on the list. It does come with two magazines, a removable scope, extendable bipod legs and barrel extension. The bolt action on this gun is truly satisfying. Who needs to shoot the fastest, farthest or most accurately when you're sporting a gun this cool? According to Jackson, no one.
Last but not least is Hamilton. As could be expected, Hamilton chose the Nerf Mega Mastodon. Hamilton likes big things. Big trucks, big fireworks, big splashes of water, big explosions. So it really was no surprise for him to choose the gun that most closely resembles an explosive expert's weapon, equipped with the mortar shells of the dart world. I can personally attest to Hamilton's destructive nature, and I'm sure no innocent neighbor or small animal shall be safe from his mortars of destruction.
Frequently asked questions about Nerf guns
Which Nerf gun holds the most ammo?
There are a few options available that hold around 50 darts, but the current title holder should go to the Nerf Elite Hail Fire Blaster. This gun can hold up to 144 darts (additional dart and magazine purchases required).
Are all Nerf bullets the same?
Nerf-style toy projectiles or darts/bullets are not all the same. The majority of these toys can use the same darts as most other toys, but there are several exceptions. The best practice is to take note of the product packaging, which should clearly indicate which dart series each product is compatible with.
Can a Nerf gun injure you?
Nerf-style toys use darts as projectiles. These darts have very soft bodies that post no real injury risk. However, the dart tips are made of a harder plastic, and there is some minor injury risk there, most commonly for potential eye damage. This is why it is recommended to wear glasses or goggles when using these toys.