If you were born any time in the last century, chances are you are already well-familiarized with those iconic neon toys that have delighted multiple generations of children. After all, what could be more satisfying than firing off a few harmless foam darts into your little brother? Or maybe you’re the skill-shot type, licking the ends of each dart before trying to get them to stick perfectly to the living room window.

Today, the best NERF guns for kids are way beyond what our generation had. They have more features, more darts, and better performance than any of their predecessors, while managing to retain all the classic neon ’80s magic of the original Nerf Gun.

So of the many dozens of models out there, how does one go about choosing a Nerf Gun? We’ve reviewed over thirty of NERF’s most popular products in an attempt to see which, if any, are duds, and which ones are sure to make your kid the coolest NERF-er on the playground.

We’ve finally narrowed it down to the 18 Best Nerf Guns of 2021. Stick around afterwards as we talk a bit about How to Choose the Best Nerf Gun for Your Kid.

STRONGARM Nerf-N-Strike Elite Toy Blaster with Rotating Barrel & Slam Fire

The new STRONGARM model toy blaster represents the new top of the line for handheld pistol-style blasters. This one features a 6-capacity quick shot action with a flip-open rotating barrel. Nothing feels quite as cool as snapping that barrel open for a quick reload in the heat of battle. The STRONGARM comes in four different color schemes, which is an absolute necessity if you have more than one child that is getting the same present this year.

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This isn’t your daddy’s NERF gun. Unlike the old pump-action, dart-firing toy blasters of yesteryear (still the standard, however) the NEMESIS MCVII-10K has a few modern tricks up its sleeve that set it firmly apart from the pack. First off, it doesn’t fire darts at all, but instead little “high-impact” foam balls. Secondly there is a top-loading hopper feed that is just like a paintball gun, meaning that you don’t have to go mucking about with reloading all the time. There is no doubt that this is one of the most intense and high-precision Nerf products out there, but 6 D batteries? That’s quite a lot of energy to spend on a toy that used to be hand-operated.

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The smallest toy in the NERF N-STRIKE series, the ELITE TRIAD EX-3 is one of the lightest and most compact toys that NERF makes. It features a simple grip-mounted pull action bar and pretty good firing range considering the size. There are only three darts here and certainly no place to store extra, but for the price (less than five bucks) you’re actually getting a pretty high-value stocking stuffer for about the same price as a nice latte.

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Nerf FORTNITE TS-1 Blaster

If your kid is anything like mine then they are likely going on and on about this FORTNITE thing. And why not? It’s actually one of the most fun video games to come out in a long time. Now you can scratch that Fortnite itch with a real-life toy replica of the formidable TS-1 blaster. A pump-action blaster allows the user to fire off four darts in quick succession, and, the TS-1 features an on-board storage capacity of an additional 8 darts, bringing the overall capacity to 12. That’s what we like to see in a NERF gun.

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LONGSTRIKE Nerf Modulus Toy Blaster with Barrel Extension, Bipod, & Scope

The real NERF connoisseur is going to appreciate the impressive customizability that is the main feature of the LONGSTRIKE. Fashioned in the style of a sniper rifle, the LONGSTRIKE features removable scopes, tripod, and barrel extension meaning that your little gunsmith can go from run-n-gun to sharpshooting at the drop of a dart. Speaking of darts, this toy comes with 18 of them as well as 3 six-dart clips for rapid reload action. It is a tad on the expensive side for a NERF gun, but the true enthusiast will appreciate the extra bells & whistles.

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Nerf ZOMBIE STRIKE FlipFury Blaster

There is nothing more annoying than being caught in the throes of a burgeoning zombie apocalypse without the appropriate weapon on hand to deal with it. Stay safe with the ZOMBIE STRIKE FlipFury, a remarkable little toy blaster that can fire up to 12 darts without reloading. This dual-revolver style construction is pretty unique amongst Nerf products, which might explain why this has been one of the hottest sellers of the 2021 season. The price is pretty good for the features, but if we had one issue with this model it’s that the dial chambers can jam up slightly after lots of use (and we used it a lot over the course of the review period).

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Out of all the toy blasters that we took a look at for this review, the N-STRIKE SURGE FIRE just might be one of the best performing. Not only does it have an impressive 15-dart rotating drum (something like a Tommy Gun) but the pump action is smooth and reliable. This means that even the hairiest of Nerf battles won’t be able to keep a SurgeFire user down for long. Even the more expensive battery-operated Nerf guns don’t fire this well or this reliably. Firing action is more powerful than you would expect with this toy, so avoid close range headshots!

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Unlike some of the larger Nerf guns that we have already looked at, the FALCON FIRE (the latest installment in the popular N-STRIKE series of toy weaponry) is a top-load single shooter designed to increase accuracy. The pump action is top mounted which makes you feel like a cyber-gangster in the coolest way possible. Overall, a very stylish plastic weapon for the discerning youngster. On-board dart storage allows for two darts to be stored. Folks requiring a bit more firepower would do better with something like the SURGE FIRE, which has significantly more firing capacity, but is perhaps a bit less accurate.

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NERF Zombie Strike BRAINSAW Blaster

The BRAINSAW BLASTER is one of the most exciting & unique toy weapon in NERF’s crazy-cool Zombie Strike series. For the youngster looking to stop the zombie apocalypse in its tracks, there is perhaps no weapon that cuts more to the point than the BRAINSAW. While it might look like a high-capacity Nerf blaster, it actually only holds one dart at a time (and comes with an additional 7 for a total of 8 darts). The real winning feature here is the rotating zombie-killing sawblade on the front of the blaster. It’s one of the most exiting NERF guns to come out in the last few years, and there is of course the bonus that there will be less zombies wandering around.

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NERF Zombie Ripchain Combat Blaster

Anyone who has been less than enthused about the low-capacity NERF blasters that we have looked at thus far might be a bit more excited about the ZOMBIE RIPCHAIN, one of Nerf’s cooler high-capacity dart guns. Defending against the zombie invasion will be a piece of cake with the MEGA SERIES darts that come included. Each one has a built in Mega Whistler that causes the darts to scream as they careen towards their target. The 25 dart “ripchain” is certainly the biggest selling point of this blaster, and the pump-action performance is no slouch either. We only wish the folks over at NERF would offer additional ripchains as separate products so we could really get into the action. Oh well. Guess we’ll just have to buy two.

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The RIVAL KRONOS is the run-n-gunners perfect plastic weapon, allowing for quick-fire delivery of Nerf’s popular HeadShot foam pellets. Not only does the KRONOS feature the awesome Phantom Corps logo on the side, but each one also comes with a pair of red and blue flags. The flags attach to the bottom of the pistol, allowing the user to choose a team for some of the most epic capture the flag games you could imagine. The five shot capacity is a bit small for a capture the flag nerf gun, but the lightweight design and included flags make this product a great choice for just about any Nerf battle, big or small.

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The MEGA BULLDOG lives up to its name by offering some of the toughest high-action performance of any NERF weapon on the market, and beyond that, it also has a few tricks up its sleeve. The BULLDOG can be transformed into two different configurations, meaning that the intrepid NERF battler can switch from handheld style to shoulder-supported rifle fire with just a few swings and clicks. We are big fans of the ACCUSTRIKE darts that the Bulldog uses. They are a good deal more accurate than the regular series dart. The stock however is not quite as sturdy as we’d like it to be, and we imagine the Bulldog might break if the battle is epic enough.

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NERF Rival Artemis XVII-3000 Blue

For serious Nerf blasters & capture the flag enthusiasts, the quickest way to up your game is by making the switch to the ARTEMIS, one of the highest capacity handheld pistols to come out of the highly touted RIVAL series of blasters. With three separate spring loaded rails, the Artemis is able to crank out 30 high impact foam rounds in a matter of seconds. That’s what they call Slam Fire Action, and we are beginning to see why. With the high-impact rounds and the slam fire action, we should note that this probably isn’t the best Nerf blaster for users 11 or younger.

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The reason we’re so stoked on the PHANTIOM CORPS series of Nerf blasters is that they are the only toy out there specifically designed for capture-the-flag action. With two included colored ribbons, the user is able to pick sides and then quickly jump into action. The bolt-rail action is very similar to what you will see on the other Phantom models, but the HELIOS is a grip-loader, setting it apart from the pack. The HELIOS, just like it’s brother the APOLLO, have the drawback of jamming up every now and then. This seems strange considering that it’s a round ball and a round hole, but hey, things get pretty complicated when you are being fired out of a barrel at these kinds of speeds.

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Looking like something straight out of a Mad Max movie, the LAWBRINGER is perhaps the awesomest weapon in the highly popular DOOMLANDS 2169 series. Protecting the post-apocalyptic wasteland from mutants & monsters has never been as easy as it is with the Lawbringer, which not only has one of the biggest on-board ammo capacities in its class, but also boasts an impressive 12-dart rotating chamber, meaning you can get a lot of shots off without having to reload. The stock mounted storage area is our favorite feature. We were somewhat disappointed with the firing range, which fell just short of the Hammershot or Strongarm Nerf guns that we have looked at before.

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SCRAVENGER Nerf Zombie Strike Toy Blaster with two 12-dart Clips

Of all the many high-powered Nerf blasters that we have featured on this guide, not a single one of them comes close to offering the kind of full-service zombie slaying accessory package as the SCRAVENGER. A tactical flashlight (AAAs not included), barrel extender, and two included dart clips are among the unique features that set this blaster apart from all the competition. The coolest part? There’s a 2-dart mini blaster hidden in the stock, so even if you’re out of darts, you won’t have to let the zombies win.

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Nerf N-STRIKE HYPERFIRE Toy (Amazon Exclusive)

So just where exactly does the HYPERFIRE get its nickname? Maybe it’s from the battery-operated 25-dart drum that can fire darts at a stunning 5 darts per second. That’s hands down the fastest firing Nerf gun on the market. Pair that with the exceptionally straight-flying ELITE series of darts (25 are included) and you also have a remarkably long-firing blaster. Jamming isn’t as bad as you would think for a battery operated blaster. But the battery requirement is a bit steep for us … we’d rather rely on good old fashioned hand pump action.

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Nerf N-STRIKE Mega BIG SHOCK Blaster

There’s nothing quite as fun as blasting your friends in the face, and for the purpose, nothing quite as effective as the MEGA BIG SHOCK BLASTER, the smallest but perhaps most walloping addition to the signature N-Strike series of Nerf guns. The M.B.S.B (as we like to call it around the office) utilizes the Mega Dart, which is perhaps the thickest Nerf dart there is, with built-in screamers for ultimate intimidation. Our only qualm here is that it only comes with two darts, but for a budget-level mini blaster, you’re still getting a great deal here.

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Conclusion: So what’s the best NERF Gun of the year?

There is perhaps no greater fun than two humans can have than when they are firing foam darts at one another. Whether it’s two kids in a playground or two businessmen in an office, the thrill of a good NERF battle is an excitement unlike any other.

The best Nerf gun, in our opinion, has to feature an optimum balance of weight, capacity, & special features. For this reason, we were almost immediately sold on the N-STRIKE ELITE SURGE FIRE, which has one of the smoothest pump-action firing systems that we have ever seen on a NERF gun.

But if you’re looking for a foam blaster that better suited to covert ops & run-n-gun action, the PHANTOM CORPS KRONOS is the way to go. It’s light enough to follow you into any battle, and double wielding them is one of the coolest things that you can do.

Nerf Gun Buying Guide: How to choose the best NERF Gun for your kid

The 18 Best Nerf Guns on our review guide represent only a small slice of the total number of plastic blasters that are available on the market. Seriously, there are hundreds of different models out there, and choosing between them can be more than a bit daunting. Fortunately for you, dear buyer, we’ve put together a brief yet thorough guide to choosing the best NERF toy for you or your child.

NERF Gun Size & Style

There are some pretty humungous NERF weapons out there, designed to throw out hundreds of darts in minutes. There are also pocket-sized mini blasters made just for covert operations. Choosing the right size NERF gun is all about considering what you’re going to use it for.

Small NERF guns, sometimes referred to as pistols, generally come with about 2 darts and usually have no on-board dart storage. They are spring-activated and usually have a slower velocity than their larger counterparts.

Medium NERF guns are the one or two handled rifles. These are highly versatile toys, often featuring some built-in dart storage as well as some special features like rotating barrels or quick-fire loading. Although there are some exceptions, most medium size NERF guns are manually powered.

Large or MEGA NERF guns are the behemoths of the battlefield, so to speak. Though they tend to be quite a bit more expensive than smaller toys, they also feature components that you aren’t going to find anywhere else, like battery operated firing chambers and barrel-mounted tactical flashlights.

NERF Gun Dart Capacity

As we touched upon in the above paragraph, the larger a NERF gun is, the more darts is can usually carry. Larger NERF blasters usually have reloadable clips, belts, or barrels that allow the user to keep a bunch of extra ammo on hand. For a full-scale Capture the Flag NERF session, you’re going to want as many darts as you can get.

Smaller NERF weapons usually only come with two darts, and only one can be loaded in at a time. These NERF toys are a lot of fun, but are more suited to smaller, around-the-house style battles as the darts need to be retrieved after each fire.

Supplemental dart storage is always an option for the enthusiastic NERF battler. Things like belt-mounted ammo clips are available as a separate purchase and can allow even users of small NERF guns to stay fully loaded in any situation.

The Different Styles of NERF Ammunition

Back in my day, there only used to be one kind of NERF dart … the bright orange kind with the black suction cup tip. That is no longer the case, as NERF guns have evolved into highly specialized series, each with their own specially designed dart style. Here’s a quick look at the difference between them:

1. TAG Style “Traditional” NERF Darts

Traditional NERF Darts

Although the color and length may vary slightly, this is the most common style of NERF dart and the most traditional. You will find this dart in use with a good number of the different NERF series, such as the ELITE, ZOMBIE STRIKE, & MODULUS series of foam blasters. These darts are intended to be lightweight but accurate and fast flying, making them perfect for a wide range of Nerfing activities

To complicate things, traditional NERF darts are further specialized for which gun they are mean for. For example, both the ELITE series and ACCUSTRIKE series of blasters use specialized darts, however both would be considered traditional style darts. (See image)

2. MEGA Style Nerf Darts

MEGA Style NERF Darts

As you can probably guess, the MEGA style of NERF dart is significantly thicker than its traditional counterpart. This means that it is going to have a hard time matching the speed or distance capabilities of a traditional dart, but is large enough to feature cool add-ons such as the “Screamer Whistle” which does exactly what it sounds like it does.

While the MEGA series of Nerf gun is a lot of fun for people of all ages, the larger darts do present less of a choking hazard to small children, and therefore tent to have a lower appropriate age rating than a lot of other competing foam blasters.

3. High Impact NERF Rounds

High Impact NERF Rounds

Designed for more advanced NERF weaponry such as the PHANTOM CORPS series or the RIVAL series, NERF High Impact rounds are designed for battles that have a bit more intensity to them. They are about the size of a paintball and in fact have been designed for that very purpose: to emulate the high-intensity fast-paced nature of a paintball match, without all the extra mess.

It’s worth mentioning of course that these don’t hurt nearly as much as getting hit by a paintball does, however, they are significantly more high-powered than most traditional NERF guns, so make sure the person you are giving it to is old enough to handle the extra chutzpah. Generally speaking, NERF guns with High Impact rounds are best suited for users who are 12 years of age and older.

About NERF

Owned by the massive toy firm HASBRO, NERF products have been popular for decades. It originally stands for Non-Expanding Recreation Foam, and the material was first created in 1969. Their first product was the successful Nerf Ball (pictured above) which sold nearly 4 million units in its first year. However, it wasn’t until twenty years later that the first NERF BLASTER was created.

Since then, NERF products have only gotten more and more fun to play with, and there is no reason to think that the trend is going to stop anytime soon.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Q: Are NERF guns dangerous for children?

A: One of the reasons that NERF toys have managed to say so popular over the years is that they are designed with safety in mind. Foam-based ammunition replaces hard plastic, and there is never any significant amount of metal on these products either. This means that it is actually very hard to injure yourself with a NERF product.

Having said that, there are some upper-level NERF guns that are meant for a slightly older crowd. The RIVAL series, for example (The Artemis or The Kronos) are made for older children (12+) because they feature a denser foam pellet and more acceleration.

Pro-tip: No matter which model of NERF blaster you by, you should never aim at the eyes or face.

Q: What is the recommended age requirement for NERF guns?

A: While all NERF products are intended for children, some are more suited for young kids while others are only appropriate for older children and teenagers. The best way to make sure that you are getting a toy that is appropriate for your child is to check the product specifications before purchasing. All NERF products have the recommended age requirement printed pretty clearly on front of the box.

Q: Do all NERF guns use the same darts? Can I buy extras?

A: There are actually a few different kinds of NERF dart, each one designed with different features and uses in mind. If you are interested in learning more about the different kinds of NERF darts and pellets, check out the above section on The Different Styles of NERF Ammunition.

Q: Do NERF guns take batteries?

A: While it used to be that NERF guns were exclusively pump-operated, there are all sorts of fancy new models hitting the market that do require batteries for one reason or another. The N-STRIKE HYPERFIRE, for example, is the fastest firing foam blaster on the market thanks to its battery operated firing system. Other NERF products like the SCRAVENGER have accessories like the tactical flashlight that require batteries of their own to operate.

And as is usually the case, most Nerf products do not come with their own batteries so be sure to check before you purchase.