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.
I (with the help of my adult colleagues and my kids) spent the better part of three weeks researching and testing the most popular Nerf guns to find the best one. Of all the ones we tested, the Nerf Zombie Strike Hammershot (available at Amazon for $15.19) is easiest to use—and the most fun—for kids and adults alike. The Zombie Strike Hammershot provided the best aim and easiest loading among all the Nerf guns we tested. 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 rotating barrels, round darts, or three guns in one.
Here are the best Nerf Guns we tested, ranked in order:
- Nerf Zombie Strike Hammershot
- Nerf Surgefire
- Nerf Modulus Tri-Strike
- Nerf N-Strike Elite Strongarm
- Nerf Rival Artemis XVII-3000
- Nerf Fortnite RL
- Nerf Zombie Strike FlipFury
- Nerf Zombie Strike Survival Nailbiter
The Zombie Strike Hammershot looks really basic, 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 chamber—and it has great aim. Some of the other Nerf guns we tested featured fancy sights and scopes that purported to increase accuracy, but the Zombie Strike Hammershot outperformed all of them and consistently hit the intended targets without the use of any special attachments.
Another reason for the Zombie Strike Hammershot'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 a standard hammer before pulling the trigger. It didn't take a lot of hand or upper body strength to cock the trigger (unlike in some of the other models we tested), which made it fun for players of all ages—even my six-year-old daughter.
With a price tag of just over $15, the Zombie Strike Hammershot provides the most bang for your buck (pun intended). Sure, you could spend upwards of $50 on a fancy battery powered Nerf gun, but it won't be nearly as easy to use or as fun for everyone to play with. The Zombie Strike Hammershot 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.
How We Tested
Hi, I'm Anna Lane. I was a comedian and freelance 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 seven-and-a-half, and a daughter who is six. 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? 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 and 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 Nerf guns, rating them for aim and accuracy, how easy they were to load, durability, safety concerns, the "fun factor," and their overall experience. Our editorial staff tested the Nerf guns 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 pack a whole lot of force, 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 Nerf guns 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 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
If you want something that's slightly fancier than the bare bones Hammershot, the Nerf N-Strike Elite Surgefire is a great choice. The rotating drum holds 15 darts, leading one of our testers to declare, "So many bullets, so much fun. It has a very high number of pellets for the ultimate hit factor." With the Elite Surgefire, players can either fire darts one at a time or slam-fire all 15 in succession for serious firepower.
It does take some upper body strength to move the grip backward and prime the blaster, which my daughter, Rose, found to be difficult, but the trigger rarely jams and the Elite Surgefire scored very high on our "fun factor" rating.
The Nerf Modulus Tri-Strike is unique in that it is made up of three different blasters that can be used separately or combined into one gun. Included as part of the Tri-Strike are a dart blaster with a 10-dart clip, a mega dart barrel extension, and a missile launcher. When all the pieces are combined into one weapon, players have three different ways to take down their opponents.
It took our testers a few minutes to figure out how to work this gun, but once they familiarized themselves with all three components, everyone agreed that the Tri-Strike was really fun. One thing worth noting, however, is that when all of the parts are combined into one, the Tri-Strike can be slightly too long for smaller kids. Rose found it unwieldy to manage, but once we took it apart and just gave her the dart blaster to shoot with, she had no trouble handling it.
I personally found the mega darts slightly disappointing—they don't travel very far or hit super hard due to the larger size—but other testers didn't share my complaints and actually liked having the various sizes of darts.
With a $49 price tag, the Nerf Modulus Tri-Strike is definitely on the more expensive end of the Nerf gun spectrum, but when you take into account that it's really three separate guns combined into one, it's really only a dollar or two more per component than the Zombie Hammershot.
The Nerf Modulus Tri-Strike is the Nerf gun that gets the most repeated use at our house due to how fun it is to change the configuration and that it can easily be shared with friends. If you want a Nerf gun that's going to make a statement, the Modulus Tri-Strike is absolutely the way to go.
All of our testers raved about the Nerf N-Strike Elite Strongarm blaster thanks to its compact size and shooting power. The rotating barrel flips open to the side of the gun, which makes it especially simple to load. It holds six darts and can shoot up to 90 feet away, which has resulted in a lot of missing darts (see above, re: purchasing extra). Similar to the Nerf N-Strike Surgefire, players can either shoot the darts one at a time or hold the trigger down to rapid fire all six in succession.
One tester felt that the darts hit a bit too hard, but others gave high marks for the Elite Strongarm's precise aim. My kids found it somewhat difficult to pull back the slide, but my daughter loved that it's available in a purple and red version instead of "ugly orange."
Unlike the other Nerf guns we tested, the Nerf Rival Artemis XVII-3000 uses round projectiles. The chamber holds 30 rounds, but all of our testers reported initially finding it difficult to load, and one tester ended up using a pen to push the balls through because she couldn't figure it out. The Nerf Rival Artemis XVII-3000 shoots with a velocity of 100 feet per second, which can be a lot of fun—until you get hit with a ball and realize how much they hurt. As one tester said, "I could take someone's eye out with this gun!"
One thing to note about the Rival Artemis XVII-3000 is that due to the high velocity the balls go really far—and can be hard to find and difficult to retrieve. It would be wise to purchase a back-up package to ensure that the fun never stops due to a lack of ammo.
I liked the fact that the Rival Artemis XV11-3000 has a trigger lock, but Noah and I discovered that it has a tendency to stick, which renders the gun useless. It was also hard for Rose to use this gun because it's heavier than some of the other Nerf guns we tested (3 pounds) and she struggled with holding onto the gun while priming the blaster. The Nerf Rival Artemis XV11-3000 is certainly a lot of fun, but best for older kids (or adults) who have more upper body strength and won't be as sensitive to being hit with the high-powered darts.
The Nerf Fortnite RL (RL stands for "Rocket Launcher") is inspired by the blaster used in the oh-so-popular Fortnite video game. This gun looks like it's going to be a lot of fun, but, as one tester so eloquently put it, "Boring. Doesn't live up to how cool-looking it is." Plus it's a two-hit wonder: It comes with two Nerf rockets that have to be loaded separately and once you shoot those, you're done.
The Nerf Fortnite RL is easy for kids to use because it doesn't have any fancy bells or whistles: Players simply pull back on a handle to prime the blaster and then push the trigger to fire the rocket. The Nerf Fortnite RL doesn't shoot with a lot of power, and the larger rocket darts don't hurt when they hit someone, making it a good option for younger kids who need something simple and easy to use.
The Nerf Fortnite RL is priced at just over $26, which seems like a lot of money to spend for something that you can only shoot twice. Our Best Overall winner, the Zombie Hammershot, costs about $10 less, and provides lots more fun for people of all ages.
The Nerf Zombie Strike FlipFury features a double barrel that you can "flip" once your first round is empty. Thanks to the double-barrel design, it's incredibly easy to load this Nerf gun, but both of my kids found it nearly impossible to pull the trigger. The Zombie Strike FlipFury shoots with a good amount of force, and I found the aim to be quite accurate, but the barrel doesn't flip very easily and can slow players down during the heat of battle. One of our testers said that the barrel felt "janky," and I am inclined to agree.
Considering the Nerf Zombie Strike FlipFury is priced under $10, if you're looking for a low-cost Nerf gun that still provides a decent amount of fun, you won't be disappointed.
The Nerf Zombie Strike Nailbiter features a vertical clip that holds 8 darts. This sounds like a great idea—until you shoot the gun and realize that the clip moves up into the path of the target as you fire, which means that you can only target for the first shot. We also found that this Nerf gun jammed more often than it worked, which was a frustrating experience for both the kid and adult testers alike.
One thing that the Zombie Strike Nailbiter does have going for it is that players don't have to pump anything to prepare it to shoot—simply push the trigger—which makes it much easier for little kids to use. However, if the trigger doesn't get pushed hard enough the gun will fail to shoot a dart, but will advance to the next chamber. The Zombie Strike Nailbiter doesn't shoot with a whole lot of velocity, so the bullets hurt less when they hit other players, but it also makes it far less fun to play with.