Airsoft Beginners Guide UK - Getting Started

A Complete Guide to getting into airsoft in the UK that covers equipment, guns, sites, rules, what a UKARA / Defence is & more!

Airsoft Beginners Guide UK - Getting Started
Squad of players pushing the objective.

Introduction

Airsoft is a military simulation sport in which players participate in mock combat with authentic military-style weapons and tactics. Players battle each other with replica firearms that shoot small, light plastic pellets (BBs) at high speed.

Airsoft has a range of different game modes and playstyles, from full-on military simulations to call of duty style team deathmatches and game-themed roleplay events such as Fallout. If you enjoy games such as Call of Duty, Escape From Tarkov, DayZ and Arma or movies such as John Wick and James Bond and want to experience the excitement for real then get down to your local airsoft site and try it.

Does it hurt?

Most hits feel like getting hit with a rubber band or flicked really hard but the pain fades quickly. Unlike paintball, airsoft does not leave huge bruises.


Costs

Compared to other outdoor activities airsoft is relatively cheap to get started in, most sites will let you rent a gun and ammo for around £10 and admission usually costs around £20-£30 for the day. It is recommended you wear sturdy boots with ankle support as well as gloves, clothing-wise you can wear whatever you want but a hoodie or long sleeve t-shirt is recommended. Airsoft can be as cheap or expensive as you want it to be, high-end equipment only gives you a marginal advantage over someone with the bare minimum and skill is the main deciding factor in who wins a firefight.


Basic Rules

The main rule in airsoft is to call your hits, a hit is usually when another player's BB hits you or they use a melee weapon such as a rubber knife. When hit you must raise your arm to indicate you are out and depending on the game mode return to the spawn point or stand in that spot and wait for a medic.

Another way of being hit is with airsoft pyrotechnics such as grenades and other devices such as claymores, these usually have a set radius set by the marshal and will be mentioned by the marshal before the game starts, grenade kills usually count if you are within the radius and not behind cover.

Since there is no physical indicator you have been hit it is down to you to call your hits and remove yourself from the game. Cheaters will soon get found out and marshals will step in to keep the game fair and fun for everyone playing, more often than not cheaters will end up being banned from sites.

Always remember if you're hit, dead men tell no tales. If you get hit, you're dead and if you're dead you can't talk, this means you can't go around after you get hit telling all of your team where the enemy is.

Before the game starts a marshal will usually explain the rules of the specific game mode and if you are unsure you can always ask a marshal for an explanation. The many different game modes and different variations keep the game interesting and fun.

Many sites will also have a no blind firing rule, this means if you can't see your target you shouldn't be shooting.

Marshal watching over the game

Scenarios & Game Modes

Airsoft games can range from full military simulations with games lasting days to live-action roleplay events such as zombie apocalypses or anything in-between. Most sites will do multiple 30-40 minute games a day and switch game modes throughout the day. Some common game modes include:

Team Deathmatch, the objective is to kill the enemy team, respawns are usually permitted for 20 minutes then respawns are not allowed. The team with players left wins.

Capture The Flag, the objective is to capture the flag and return it to your team's spawn point earning a point for doing so, the team with the most points wins.

Hardpoint/King of the Hill, capture and hold the point for as long as possible, the team holding the point wins.

Attack/Defend, teams take turns attacking and defending a point, the attackers win by capturing the point, and the defenders win by holding the point until the time runs out.

Free For All, no teams, every player for themselves, last person standing wins.

Softariplayer in Teplá, CZ
Airsoft squad holding a position

Airsoft Playing Sites

The UK has over 150 skirmish sites and this number is constantly increasing, sites can be both outdoor and indoor and can have a variety of structures and terrain, the layout and scope of an airsoft site is virtually unlimited.

Urban sites based in old warehouses, office blocks, hospitals, power stations, bunkers, old military bases & even cold war bunkers are often close quarters combat (CQB).

Woodland sites are more open with engagements at longer distances, with a few structures and objectives. Woodland sites can become muddy and have challenging terrain but offer opportunities to outmanoeuvre the enemy team.

Some sites are a mix of CQB and more open terrain creating an interesting and challenging area of play.

Typically most games are held on weekends starting around 10 am and ending around 4 pm however this varies from site to site. Games will very rarely be cancelled due to weather and run all year round, so be prepared to play in the rain and cold or check the weather forecast before booking.

Outside of the UK, most of Europe has airsoft sites available, however UK airsoft is highly rated by players from all over the world, often with some airsoft players travelling to the UK for events.

Most sites have charging points, toilets, a covered safe zone and a shop, however, make sure to check beforehand.

Airsoftgame in Teplá, CZ
Airsoft squad pushing the objective

Typical Game Day

The best way to get into airsoft is to go to your local site, game briefings usually start around 10 am where the marshals will brief everyone. It's important to listen to the brief as it will cover safety information and site rules. Games usually last around 30-40 minutes but depending on the game mode that may vary, the marshal will usually say when explaining the game mode. If you cannot buy food on site make sure to bring some lunch and lots of water.

If you can try and turn up around an hour before the game briefing starts, this will give you a chance to chat with players, learn more about the sport and get a good spot to put your stuff down. Lunch break is usually around an hour and the day usually ends at around 4-5 pm, typically in a day about 4-6 games will be played depending on how long they last.

At some sites, you may end up away from the safe area all day or just end up returning for lunch, if this is the case you will want to take your stuff with you.


Airsoft Communities

Players often form teams varying from being well coordinated with uniforms to just a group of friends who go to games. BEAR is our team, inspired by the BEAR private military contractors from the game Escape From Tarkov, PMCs that operate in any environment with any gear available to them.


Airsoft Guns

Spring-Powered

Spring-powered guns use a hand-operated mechanism to pull a piston against spring pressure and lock it back whilst loading a BB into the hop unit. The potential energy then stored in the spring is used when the lock is released, causing the piston to move through the cylinder forcing the air out and sending the BB down the barrel.

This category includes cheap single-shot pistols, but also shotguns and sniper rifles.

Automatic Electric Gun (AEG)

AEGs are the most common gun. These are powered by rechargeable batteries similar to ones used in RC cars and aircraft. They operate in a similar way to spring powered guns, however, instead of manually pulling the spring back an electric motor and gearbox do the work. This means only a pull of the trigger is required and because of this, AEGs can fire in both semi-automatic and fully automatic. Some AEGs also have the option to fire a burst of multiple rounds when the trigger is pulled. They are simple to use and only require BBs and a battery to operate.

Gas Blowback (GBB)

Gas Blowback guns use compressed gas to operate and is mostly used with handguns, grenade launchers & shotguns. They operate on either CO2 or a propane/butane mix which is usually stored in the magazine. When the trigger is pulled a series of valves allow the compressed gas to propel the BB down the barrel and cycle the gun.

High-Pressure Air (HPA)

HPA is very similar to AEG, however, instead of using an electric motor HPA uses compressed air to power a pneumatic motor (known as an "engine") that sits where the gearbox would be in an AEG. An external tank is used to store the compressed air and the engine can regulate how much air is released with each shot as well as the fire rate of the gun.

Hop-Up

Hop-up is the backspin put on a BB to cause it to fall less over a given distance than it would otherwise without backspin without increasing the velocity of the BB. When adjusting a hop-up unit you want to make sure the BB travels as far in a straight line as possible, it's ok if the BB rises slightly and falls back to be level with the gun's barrel. However, too much hop up and the BB will curve upwards too sharply and not enough hop up and the BB will fall to the ground quickly.

Magazines

Standard, mid and high capacity magazines exist, which feed BBs into the gun using a spring. Mag capacity is often based on mag size, for example, a standard capacity Glock magazine won't hold as many BBs as a standard capacity AK magazine. Real capacity magazines also exist, holding the same amount of BBs as their real-life counterpart would.

The most popular magazines for AEGs are mid and high capacity magazines as they hold 100-600 BBs, however, some players prefer mid-capacity magazines as they do not require winding, unlike high capacity magazines which require the mechanism inside to be wound.

Drum and box magazines also exist. These often utilise an electric motor to wind the spring automatically and can hold thousands of BBs.

Batteries

Batteries are usually stored in the stock or foregrip of an AEG and are usually multiple cells. Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) batteries are similar to everyday rechargeable batteries. They however are not as good as Lithium-based batteries such as Lithium-Ion Polymer (LiPo). LiPo batteries hold much more charge than NiMH batteries and last longer than NiMH batteries making them the more popular option.

Battery capacity is measured in milliamp-hours (mAh) and this determines how long your battery will last before needing to be recharged. In most cases, a battery of around 1500mAh will last most of a game day depending on how trigger happy you are, bringing a spare battery is always a good idea though.

Voltage is another important factor when considering a battery, NiMH batteries are often 7.4V or 9.6V whilst LiPo batteries are often 7.4V or 11.1V. Make sure to read the manual and find out what voltage is best suited for your gun.

Another factor to consider is a battery's C rating. This is the discharge power for the battery, the higher the number the higher the burst of power sent to the motor and the faster the motor spins. A higher C rating provides a quicker fire rate and better trigger response at the expense of battery life.

Gas

Gas is most commonly either CO2 or a propane/butane mix. For ease of use gas is colour coded based on pressure.

Gas Description
White For guns with light or plastic slides.
Green The second-highest pressure gas and is the most popular.
Red Similar to green gas but at a higher pressure.
Black Used in really cold environments.
CO2 CO2 runs at 800psi depending on temperature.

Ammunition

Ammunition (BBs) is available in different weights ranging from 0.12g to 0.4g however 0.2g or 0.25g BBs are generally the most commonly used.

Weight FPS Description
0.12g < 170fps The lowest weight of BB, made for rifles and pistols under 170fps. This type of ammo can also be used in grenade launchers.
0.20g 150fps - 350fps The most commonly used weight, perfect for CQB and environments with no wind.
0.25g 250fps - 350fps Commonly used in outdoor environments, less affected by wind and great for shooting through foliage.
0.28g 310fps - 400fps Even less affected by wind and foliage, great for guns with an upgraded hop up unit.
0.30g 400fps+ Designed for high powered spring weapons, DMRs or upgraded AEGs.
0.32g - 0.4g 400fps+ Designed for high powered spring weapons and DMRs.

Biodegradable BBs or Bio BBs that degrade over time are available and some sites will only allow you to use these, however, if you can you should use these anyway as they are more friendly to the environment than non-biodegradable BBs. After a BB has landed you should not reuse it as it can potentially shatter and damage the internals of your gun.

Upgrading A Gun

Most airsoft guns can be upgraded to enhance the rate of fire, range or change the look of a gun however are not required to be competitive. We recommend if you want to get a gun upgraded you go to an airsoft technician unless you are confident you know what you're doing.


Shops

Local airsoft stores often serve as a home base for airsofters and airsoft teams alike. Your local airsoft stores will always be happy to help and should be your go-to place for friendly advice. It's always important to support your local store. As this will probably be the place you spend your time when you're not on the battlefield try to foster a good relationship with the store and its other visitors. Stores are always an excellent place to hang out, talk about airsoft and pick up some cool new kit. Stores come in all different shapes and sizes but we're sure for the newbies, veterans and operators you'll become good friends in no time.

Suppressing fire

Safety

Eye and Face Protection

The first thing you should invest in is good eye protection. Make sure when you are buying it is from a reputable company and the eye protection is rated for airsoft, paintball or shooting. Mesh goggles do exist and won't fog up however if a BB shatters on impact it could go through the mesh. Shooting glasses are more prone to fogging up however some do have anti-fog coatings, and anti-fog sprays are also available.

Eye protection is the only required protection for all players, however, under 18s must have face protection and it's recommended for all players as getting shot in the face isn't fun. A lower face mask made from a metal mesh is a good investment and will prevent you from losing teeth.

Clothing

You can wear whatever clothing you want to an airsoft game (unless you are at an event that requires you to represent a particular fighting force), though most players buy kit and camouflage or some military-style clothing. The BEAR airsoft team often go around in all-black gear as private military contractors although we don't have any set weapon loadouts.

Boots

For outdoor games a good pair of walking or army issue boots is recommended, they will protect your ankles, are made for outdoor terrain and will keep your feet warm and dry. Trainers are not great for outdoor terrain, especially if it's muddy.

Rigs

Rigs or "kit" is the gear that carries your ammo, magazines, etc. The main types of "kit" are:

Chest Rig - Strip of pouches that sits across your torso, usually held by crossed shoulder straps.

Assault vest - Covers your entire torso, maximising area for pouches.

Plate carrier - Designed to hold armour plates in the real world, similar to a big chest rig with a smaller panel higher on your chest. Plates that store water can be found.

Belt Kit - A waist belt with pouches mounted on it.

When buying "kit" it is worth taking into consideration how easy it is to feel hits when wearing the kit. You should learn to tell when you have been hit from sounds and other signs.

Gloves

Gloves are another good investment as being shot in the hand can hurt. Many players like mechanics gloves as they are thick but also provide the dexterity required to use an airsoft gun.


Laws

What is a UKARA?

The United Kingdom Airsoft Retailers Association or UKARA is essentially a database containing all registered players at airsoft sites. UKARA was formed in response to the Violent Crime Reduction Act, which specifies that to purchase a Realistic Imitation Firearm (RIF) an individual must have a reason or defence for purchasing it.

This means if you do not have a UKARA membership or defence you must have a two-tone gun. This means a gun that is at least 50% painted a non-military colour.

To obtain a UKARA membership you must visit an airsoft site 3 times or more over a period of no less than 2 months (56 days / 8 weeks) at which point a site can submit paperwork to enter you into the database.

Other Useful Info

Safe handling of air guns
Guidance on safe handling and storage of air guns and air rifles.
Locality Max FPS for auto Max FPS for semi
England 1.3J 374fps @ 0.20g 2.5J 518fps @ 0.20g
Wales 1.3J 374fps @ 0.20g 2.5J 518fps @ 0.20g
Scotland 1.3J 374fps @ 0.20g 2.5J 518fps @ 0.20g
Northern Ireland 1.0J 328fps @ 0.20g 1.0J 328fps @ 0.20g

We hope you found this article helpful and that you go on to enjoy the sport as much as we do. Be sure to keep an eye out for new posts and articles answering your questions and giving any advice we can.

Stay safe & see you on the field Operators!