The range of cheap Nerf guns is huge and many are well under the $20 mark which makes for affordable fun.
Our pick for the best cheap nerf gun is the Nerf N-Strike Elite Stryfe – it combines 6 dart capacity with fast, accurate firing, easy handling & light weight with plenty of options for customizing.
Also, as of October 2016 at least, it seems that the only mark against it with reports of jamming issues has been resolved. For the price, there’s no reason not to buy it.
- 6 Dart Capacity
- Battery Powered Semi-Auto
- 30-40ft Effective Range
- 75ft Max Range
- 5 Dart Capacity
- Manual Priming
- 30ft Effective Range
- 75ft Max Range
- Single Shot
- Manual Priming
- 20ft Effective Range
- 50ft Max Range
- Our Pick – N-Strike Elite Stryfe
- Cheap Choice – Zombie Strike Hammershot
- Best for Parties – N-Strike Jolt 4 Pack
- Eye Protection & Accessories
Types of Nerf Guns
If you’re unfamiliar with Nerf guns (also called blasters) it helps to know that there are 3 different types, each with their pros & cons.
- Single shot manually operated blasters
- Multi shot manually operated blasters
- Battery powered semi-auto blasters
The size, weight, power and effective range generally increases with each type. Effective range is the distance that the dart shoots straight – basically how far it’ll shoot accurately.
The manually operated blasters have an internal air piston powered by a spring which is used to fire the darts (also referred to as “springers”), whereas the battery powered models use a pair of flywheels to fling the darts through the barrel of the blaster (called “flywheelers”).
The battery operated semi-auto models also load each dart automatically from the clip, so all you need to do is pull the trigger.
Nerf Gun Safety
Even the basic single shot Nerf guns pack some punch in a size no larger than an adult’s hand. Eye protection is a particularly good idea and the potential to damage breakables in the house is all too apparent. I’ve listed some of the more popular safety and accessory items at the end of this article.
Even though kids as young as 5 could operate some of the Nerf blasters, the recommended age is 8 and older.
Our Pick – Nerf N-Strike Elite Stryfe
The battery powered semi-auto N-Strike Elite Stryfe is our pick for the best cheap Nerf gun for kids.
Being a battery powered semi-automatic blaster there’s a bit more going on than with a simple springer nerf gun. First of all you’ll need 4 x AA batteries so make sure you have some handy.
The darts are loaded into the clip which slots into the bottom of the blaster. The spring inside the clip is soft so this is easy to do, but a bit fiddly for young kids. Also, try to not bend the darts or they won’t fire straight.
You’ll notice there are 2 other buttons near the trigger. Button number 1 (below) activates the electric motors. You need to press this BEFORE pulling the trigger. It doesn’t need much for the motors to spin up but you’ll want to give it about 1 second before pulling the trigger.
Number 2 is the clip release button. You can press this forward with your middle finger while holding the blaster, making it very quick to swap clips (assuming you have some spares strapped to your tactical vest).
- Fast rate of fire. The single biggest benefit of a battery powered semi-auto blaster is that it’ll fire darts each time you pull the trigger – no manual priming required making it one of the best cheap nerf guns available.
- Fast darts. Darts are propelled by a electric motors which drive 2 flywheels. These flywheels grip the dart as it’s fed in and fling it forward. Even though the electric motors needs to spin up the flywheels to fire, it does so very quickly but firing isn’t instant like the Hammershot.
- Good size, weight & balance. It’s well balanced and not too heavy plus younger kids will be able to fire it easily given it’s semi-auto operation. Note that the recommended age is 8+ years though.
- Customizing. The Stryfe is popular for it’s customizability – high capacity dart clips are available, tactical rails sit top & bottom to accept add-ons and with the ability to fit stock and barrel extensions it can be transformed into something unique.
- 30-40ft effective range. The effective range is 30-40 feet with up to 75 feet achievable with an arced shot.
- Accuracy. The barrel on the Stryfe has rifling (twisted grooves) to make the darts spin as they exit – this gives the Stryfe better accuracy than the Hammershot. This is a photo taken looking straight down the barrel where you can make out the twist of the rifling grooves.
- Only 6 darts. The standard dart clip only holds 6 darts which will be emptied very quickly given the fast rate of fire. Additional Elite dart refill packs and 18 dart clips are a very handy upgrade.
- Add-on stock and barrel may wobble. While stock and barrel extensions are available, they aren’t all designed to work specifically with the Stryfe and the fit isn’t always perfect. If there’s any movement some tape at the joint to make a tight fit can resolve it.
- Electric motor noise can give you away. As hinted at above, there is a downside to battery powered Nerf guns, and that’s the sound of the motor! It isn’t very loud but it can give away your position if you’re sneaking up on your enemy. Even though there is a slight delay while the motor spins up the flywheels, by the time you’re firing you can get off a number of darts in quick succession so this can work to your advantage.
- Remove the trigger lock to avoid jams. This seems to be an old issue and may not be relevant any more. The trigger lock gets pushed up by the next dart to allow the trigger to be pulled, except that it didn’t always move right out of the way causing it to jam. My October 2016 Nerf Stryfe didn’t have the trigger lock fitted at all, so nothing to worry about.
If you want to see the inside of a Nerf Stryfe, or want a step by step how to remove the trigger lock, check out my article 2016 Nerf Stryfe – No More Jamming?
Cheap Choice – Zombie Strike Hammershot
The Nerf Zombie Strike Hammershot is our cheap choice Nerf gun for kids due to it’s awesome value for money, 5 dart capacity and reliable operation.
The Hammershot is a simple blaster which also makes it very reliable. In simple terms the darts are loaded directly into the front, the hammer is cocked down for each shot (which also rotates the barrel) and the trigger fires each dart pretty much instantly.
- Price. For something that looks so cool, I was genuinely surprised at the price – well under $20 at the time of publishing (Oct 2016).
- Easy to operate. The manual hammer priming action is easy for younger kids to operate as they can just push it down with their free hand. Compare this to the N-Strike Elite Strongarm which requires the top slide to be gripped & pulled back against the spring, which is difficult for smaller hands.
- Instant Firing. One of the benefits of a springer nerf gun is that once it’s cocked it’ll fire instantly with no delays. Flywheelers need a second or so to spin up the electric motors.
- Dual wielding. For older kids the benefit of the hammer priming action is they can prime with their thumb which makes it possible to dual wield with a Hammershot in each hand. This doubles their dart capacity to 10 before reloading!
- Easy reloading & no jams. Reloading is simple with full access to the front of the Nerf gun to insert the darts. The barrel can be spun freely to rotate the lower to positions clear of the support bar to avoid bending the darts. One of the benefits of the simple front loading design is that the Hammershot has nothing which can jam.
- 30ft effective range. The effective range (where the darts will be close to where you aimed) is around 30 feet, but will reach up to 75 feet by angling the Nerf gun up. It’s possible to increase the power of the Hammershot with a replacement spring, which you didn’t hear from me. But you can get it here 🙂
- Holds 5 darts compared to some which hold 6. The Hammershot holds 5 darts compared to 6 for the Strongarm which is also a springer, but for me this is outweighed by the Hammershot’s ease of priming. In the fierce heat of battle in the yard we’ll take an easy to fire blaster over a single extra dart any day!
- Not quite as accurate as the Stryke. This is a common trait with front loading blasters like the Hammershot compared to flywheelers. Pros and cons with each.
- Replace green darts with orange/blue so they’re easier to find. When playing outside, green darts in the garden are bound to get lost. You’re likely to want additional darts at some point anyway, so just buy the orange & blue Elite darts which are easier to spot.
- Take darts out after play time is over. An important tip is to not leave darts in the Nerf gun when not in use. If the darts are left in the barrel the ends become compressed and they won’t stay fully seated. If the dart is not all the way in it won’t fire until pushed back in. Best to keep the darts in a zip lock bag or similar so they don’t get lost and only load them when about to play.
- Don’t bend your darts! This is a general tip for all Nerf guns as a bent dart will never fly straight. This is one of the challenges with small kids though as my 4 year old daughter can get a bit exuberant collecting the darts and hold onto them a bit too tight.
Best for Parties – Nerf N-Strike Jolt 4 Pack
These N-Strike Jolt single shot blasters are barely longer than the dart within, but are surprisingly powerful! This 4 pack of Nerf guns with 6 red and 6 blue darts is perfect for party games.
Note: actually comes with 12 darts total, not 20!
- Small & easy to use. The jolt is small – really small. Don’t be mistaken, as it can be used comfortably by an adult but it’s great for kids too. Reloading couldn’t be simpler and the priming handle is easy to grip by smaller hands but the recommended age is 8+ (the same as the larger Nerf guns above).
- Reliable. The manual operation and single shot dart capacity makes it so simple there’s really not much that can go wrong with it. As a small & dependable blaster it can easily be carried in a pocket as a backup.
- 20ft effective range. It has an effective range of around 20 feet, but will reach 40-50 feet arced. However this is really a close-quarters blaster so range isn’t so much of a concern.
- Perfect for parties! Having the Jolt available in a pack of 4, with 2 red and 2 blue and matching darts makes it perfect for parties! Got a house full of sugar-infused boys for a birthday? No problem – send them out in the yard with a Jolt each for a few games of Red vs Blue.
- Need to carry extra darts. There really isn’t much wrong with the Jolt – just don’t be surprised how small it is. It is a single shot blaster so has no way to carry extra ammo. Just make sure that if you put extra darts in a pocket they won’t get bent or deformed.
- Includes 12 darts, not 20 as the image above shows. The only issue I have is the product image above which indicates 20 darts are included, when the pack actually comes with 12 as you can see here: 6x red and 6x blue.
- Not much to add here, except to buy more darts 🙂
Safety and Accessories
Cool eye protection with 5 Elite darts for ages 8+
Red or Blue eye protection with facemask
Fury Strike Tactical Vest – ages 8+ (1 size). Includes 20 darts.
Features velcro closures and an open mesh back for maximum breathability in the heat of battle!
GFU Tactical Vest Kit – ages 8+ (1 size) with open mesh back and velcro closures. Includes:
- 16 darts
- 5 dart clip
- 11 dart clip
- Safety glasses
- Face tube mask