If you'd asked me when I was pregnant with my son if I ever thought that he would end up having a closet full of Nerf guns, I would have laughed right in your face. I envisioned his childhood being full of wooden blocks, organic kale chips, and mommy-and-me meditations visualizing world peace. As with most things about parenting, nothing has gone as planned, and I do, in fact, have a son whose favorite toys are plastic weapons. Naturally this makes me—and my son—well-suited to finding the Nerf gun that's best for players of all ages and sizes. If you're looking for a toy that's going to get them off of their tablets and outside, a Nerf gun is a smart investment.
With the help of my adult colleagues and my kids, I spent the better part of three weeks researching and testing the most popular Nerf guns to find the best one. Of the 10 that we tested, the Nerf Elite 2.0 Commander(available at Amazon for $9.97) is the easiest to use—and the most fun—for kids and adults alike. It was one of the simplest to load and a cinch to use. Of course, when it comes to these fun toys, it's practically impossible to just choose one, especially when other models offer different features like a cool T. rex design or an added crossbow.
Here are the best Nerf guns we tested, ranked in order:
Nerf Elite 2.0 Commander
Nerf Zombie Strike Outbreaker
Zuru X-shot Royale Hawk Eye
Zuru X-shot Reflex 6
Zuru X-shot Omega
Nerf Pharaoh Ultra
Nerf Dino Squad Rex Rampage
Zuru X-shot Crusher
Nerf Modulus Recon MKIII
Nerf Elite 2.0 Commander RD-6
The Nerf Elite 2.0 Commander is one of the simpler guns that we tested, but it consistently garnered high marks from both our adult and child testers. The foam darts are extremely easy to load quickly—you simply stick them directly into the rotating chamber—and while it didn't have perfect aim, players hit the intended target more often than not.
Another reason for the Nerf Elite 2.0 Commander's high marks is that it is easy to shoot. Players don't have to figure out a complicated combination of buttons and levers in order to prime the blaster; all they have to do is pull back the top slide before pulling the trigger. It didn't require a lot of hand or upper body strength to use the slide either (unlike in some of the other models we tested), which made it fun for players of all ages—even my 7-year-old daughter.
With a price tag of under $10, the Nerf Elite 2.0 Commander provides the most bang for your buck (pun intended). Sure, you could spend upwards of $50 on a fancy Nerf gun that requires batteries, but it won't be nearly as easy to use or as fun for everyone to play with. The Nerf Elite 2.0 Commander has such a low price point that you might as well purchase at least two so that you can have a truly epic—and evenly matched—Nerf gun battle.
Hi, I'm Anna Lane. I was a comedian and freelance comedy writer for many years before joining the staff at Reviewed as the Parenting editor. I live in Los Angeles with my husband and our two children: a son who is 8-and-a-half, and a daughter who is 7. Yes, they are 18 months apart, and no, it was not planned that way. My reviews are informed by my life as a working mom who wishes she had the ability to be in two places at once. I enjoy helping other overwhelmed, exhausted parents find the answers to such burning parenting questions as: What stroller should I buy?, Which matching family pajamas are softest?, and Why does my child always tell me about the class bake sale the night before? I fear that I will never find the answer to that last query, but I do suggest that you stock up on my favorite organic cake mix.
Most of the time my kids complain about the fact that I work—except when I take them to Disneyland—but when I told my son, Noah, that I'd been given the assignment of testing Nerf guns, he literally jumped for joy. I knew that I would need his expertise when it came to selecting which Nerf guns to test, not only because he owns 15 of them, but also because he keeps up with all of the latest innovations in Nerf gun technology.
It's not just kids who like to play with Nerf guns. There are lots of adults who take their Nerf battles very seriously, so I felt that it would be important—and fun—to get my grown-up colleagues to try out the guns as well. Noah and I put together a selection of both his favorite Nerf guns as well as the ones that were the most popular online, and had one of each type shipped to the Reviewed office in Boston, and my house in Los Angeles.
We asked our testers to provide feedback on each of the products, rating them for aim and accuracy, how easy they were to load, durability, safety concerns, the "fun factor," and their overall experience. Some of our staff tested the products in Boston, and my kids tested (and rated) the same guns here in Los Angeles. Once all of our testers weighed in, our chief scientist used the data to calculate which toy weapon took the top spot.
What You Should Know About Nerf Guns
You Need Safety Glasses
Nerf darts may be made out of foam, but some Nerf guns are very high-impact, so if you get hit in the eye you'll absolutely be headed to the emergency room. Don't let a fun time get ruined by a Nerf-related injury: Keep a pack of safety glasses on hand.
Keep It Simple
If you're purchasing a Nerf gun for a child, simpler is better. There are lots of models on the market with fancy scopes or fire mechanisms, but the more bells and whistles the gun has, the heavier and more complicated it's likely to be. Opt for a basic single-shot model that's easy for little fingers to load and shoot, otherwise, you'll be stuck helping prime blasters and load darts.
Buy Extra Darts
While it may initially seem that all Nerf guns use the same type of foam darts, that's not the case. Some Nerf blasters use elite darts, while others use a wider type, and others a completely different shape altogether. Using the recommended shape and size of dart results in the best accuracy, force, and shot distance. Research which darts are best suited for your particular Nerf gun, and purchase extras; it will help avoid any tantrums about there not being enough darts for an epic Nerf battle.
Other Nerf Guns We Tested
Nerf Zombie Strike Outbreaker Bow
The feature that sets the Nerf Zombie Strike Outbreaker apart is the crossbow that's mounted to the top, which can be used to shoot darts. Players can either use the crossbow or go the more traditional route and pull the trigger instead. Both choices yield a super strong shot, and our kid testers didn't have any problems using the bow or the trigger mechanisms. In fact, all of our testers gave the Outbreaker high marks for its shooting power—it was the strongest of all the guns we tested—as well as how easy it was to load the darts into the rotating drum.
The Zombie Strike Outbreaker also got points for how cool it looks. I mean, who doesn't want a crossbow-Nerf gun combo? The trademark Zombie green color makes this Nerf gun stand out in a crowded playroom, and it felt durable enough to withstand plenty of Nerf battles.
If you're in search of a Nerf gun that's more unique than Nerf Elite 2.0 Commander, you can't go wrong with the Zombie Strike Outbreaker.
The Zuru X-Shot Royale Hawkeye was the overall favorite of our kid testers because it had the best aim out of all the guns we tested. Both of my kids were consistently able to hit their targets with this gun, which made it their preferred choice—though I'm sure the snazzy gold exterior also won them over. I suspect that the reason the X-Shot Royale Hawkeye has the best aim is due to the detachable scope. We didn't try to shoot without the scope attached, but it did appear to help my kids hit their intended victim (um, target) once they mastered using it.
The X-Shot Royale Hawkeye blaster is easy to prime thanks to the pump action mechanism, and the gun itself is lightweight, so it wasn't too unwieldy for my 7-year-old to run around with. The biggest downside to the X-Shot Royale is that it only holds four bullets at a time, which means you'll have to reload pretty often if you're in a heated competition.
The Zuru X-Shot Reflex 6 is another gold-plated gun, but it's smaller and more compact than the Royale Hawkeye. It also doesn't have a detachable scope, which means that it's not very accurate when it comes to hitting an intended target. In fact, my daughter found it so annoying that she wasn't able to hit her victim (me) that she rated the Reflex 6 "difficult and frustrating."
As far as loading the projectiles, the X-Shot Reflex 6 took the top spot in the "easy to load" category, likely because users can quickly and easily pop the projectiles right into the rotating chamber. The X-Shot Reflex 6 is a good choice for younger Nerf gun obsessives who might otherwise have a hard time figuring out complicated steps in order to get a gun to shoot, since it works with a simple spring and plunge load design. Simply pull back the hook on the rear of the gun and then just push the trigger to shoot the darts.
The Zuru X-Shot Omega is a cool-looking gun that's sure to intimidate even the most seasoned Nerf opponent. This gun shoots the farthest of any of the Nerf guns we tested, but, unfortunately, that doesn't translate into accuracy at hitting a target. That being said, the X-Shot Omega can shoot up to four darts per second, so if you're looking for sheer volume as opposed to tailored aim, this gun won't disappoint.
There's no question that one of the features that sets the X-Shot Omega apart is that it holds lots of darts, which means you won't have to pause your Nerf battle to reload. However, our kid testers found that it was difficult to line the darts up in the chamber, which resulted in issues with the gun jamming.
One of the best features of the X-Shot Omega is that you prime the blaster by pulling back on the handle mounted on the top of the gun. While this may sound difficult considering the size of the gun, it has little resistance, which means that it was easy for even our youngest tester to manage.
The Nerf Pharaoh Ultra is a huge gun. While that's certainly a plus when it comes to intimidating your opponents, it is decidedly not a plus for kids. In fact, the Pharaoh Ultra is so long and heavy that it was practically impossible for my 7-year-old daughter to manage, and she needed help holding it up to shoot.
Another huge problem with the Pharaoh Ultra is that's it's very difficult to remove the clip in order to fill it with Nerf darts. Neither of my kids was able to get the clip out without adult help, and even I had such a tough time getting it out that I had to get my husband to help. Our adult testers also had a difficult time with the clip and rated the Pharaoh Ultra as the most difficult to load of all the guns we tested. Needless to say, this is not a Nerf gun that kids are going to be able to manage independently.
The Pharaoh Ultra did get points for accuracy though, thanks to the integrated scope and how far it can shoot. It also felt durable and like it can withstand lots of hard use, so it could be an ideal choice for older teen Nerf enthusiasts.
The Nerf Dino Squad Rex Rampage is the only Nerf gun we tested that required batteries, which turned out not to be much of a "pro" as it made the gun really heavy. If you're scoring simply on looks, however, the Dino Squad Rex Rampage is a winner thanks to its resemblance to an actual T. rex. The bright red and green colors also help it to stand out, and it was the first gun that my kids wanted to test because they found it so appealing.
Unfortunately, outward appearance is the best thing the Dino Squad Rex Rampage has going for it. Our testers did like that the clip holds 10 darts at a time, but it scored low for accuracy at hitting a target, and every single tester felt that it was underwhelming.
The battery power means that there's no need to prime the blaster—users simply fire up the motor and press the trigger—but no one felt that this feature made up for the Rex Rampage's overall shortcomings.
The only thing memorable about the Uwantme foam dart blaster is the suggestive name. While it's nice that these are sold in a pack of two for instant Nerf battle action, the small guns felt cheap and not very durable. They're easy for kids to shoot, since they have a standard hammer and trigger combo, but they don't have much power, range, or accuracy. The Uwantme blasters also only hold three bullets, so players will have to reload often if they're engaged in a long-lasting Nerf battle.
Both our adult and child testers gave these a low rating in the "fun factor" category, and across the board, no one said that they would want to play with the Uwantme again. If you're looking for something that's going to work for very young kids who don't care about things like accuracy and aim, this is an inexpensive option that won't stick around the playroom for long.
Similar in design to the X-Shot Omega, the Crusher features pump action that can blast up to four darts per second. That's definitely a great thing—assuming the gun isn't too heavy for your kids to manage. Our youngest tester could barely lift the Crusher up, and she certainly couldn't hold it steady long enough to take advantage of this trait.
In terms of accuracy, the Crusher scored low, and it wasn't especially easy to pull back the handle to load a dart into the chamber. The 35-dart belt is a pro, however, and we didn't have issues with the auto-rotating belt causing the gun to jam as we did with the Omega. The Crusher has a long shooting range—supposedly up to 90 feet—but its lack of accuracy canceled out any positive impact that provides.
The feature that sets the Nerf Modulus Recon MKIII blaster apart is the dart shield that can be attached to the top of the gun. While this seems like a cool idea, it's not big enough to shield players from any shots unless their opponent is basically standing four feet in front of them. Great idea, not so great in execution.
The Nerf Modulus Recon MKIII blaster was difficult to shoot for both our kid and adult testers—you have to pump the slide back and forward for each shot—which slowed down how quickly they were able to shoot their opponents. The Recon MKIII blaster also shoots really hard, which led to concern among the parents in our testing group that players could get hurt. The Recon MKIII blaster does have a clip that holds 12 darts, but everyone found that it was hard to remove and took time to load (though not as difficult as the Pharaoh).
As far as accuracy, the Nerf Modulus Recon MKIII blaster scored pretty low, but it does have a long range, making it good for use outside.
Prior to joining Reviewed as the Parenting Editor, Anna worked as a stand-up comedian and freelance writer. A graduate of New York University, Anna currently resides in Los Angeles with her husband and two children.
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