The FIRST rule is shop at an Airsoft retailer. Don’t shop at Wal-Mart unless you are buying a gun for someone under 10 years of age. They sell a brand called Crosman that is very inexpensive and perfect for the kid who is going to break it the first time out. These guns are made to expire quickly and not for someone who is really into Airsoft. The Airsoft section at Wal-Mart is very limited and is basically a teaser to get someone into Airsoft. I’m fairly certain that every brand of BB they offer is all but unusable in electric or gas guns and should only be used in cheap spring guns. The same pretty much goes for Sport Chalet, although I believe they sell some decent masks and gloves and such. Big 5 is a mixed bag. Most of their stuff isn’t worth a second look, but sometimes they will be carrying high quality BBs and gas. Occasionally you might find a decent GBB pistol there. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a high quality AEG at Big 5. The best place to buy your Airsoft gear is at an Airsoft store, which makes a lot of sense if you think about it.
The SECOND rule is to pay attention to brand. Almost all decisions as to weather a gun is good value for money can be made instantly just based on which brand it is. Some brands are better than others and belong in different price ranges. I’ll try to give a breakdown of some well known brands.
Airsoft Elite – ICS rebrands with stronger springs and the necessary internal upgrades to handle the extra power.
Classic Army – Very well made, full metal Airsoft replicas. Known for excellent externals
Elite Force/Umarex – American company, they rebrand guns from companies such as VFC, Ares and G&G. Hold licenses to various trademarks.
G&G – G&G makes replicas in both the mid range and high range. They are known for having very durable components but being more difficult to work on.
G&P – These guys only make a few rifles and an M249. I’ve never shot one personally, but I use their midcap magazines and they are excellent.
Hudson – Hudson makes extremely high quality replicas, mostly of WWII guns.
ICS – One of TM’s main competitors, and one of the largest Airsoft manufacturers, ICS features durable internals and full metal bodies.
King Arms – Well known for their upgrades and accessories, King Arms also sells AEGs that originally come from Western Arms.
KWA/KSC – Known mostly for their GBB pistols (some of the most reliable GBB pistols you can get), KWA/KSC have made some rifles as well and they have proven to be of good quality.
Marushin – Marushin make some guns that fire 8mm BBs which is actually pretty unusual.
Maruzen – An older company with a proven track record.
Olympic Arms – These guys rebrand ICS guns.
Sheriff – Custom rebuilds of Western Arms and Maruzen guns.
SOCOM Gear – American company that rebrands pistols from WE-Tech and AEGs from VFC. Their guns feature excellent externals with licensed trademarks. Produce a high-end replica of the Barrett .50 Cal.
Systema – Basically the best Airsoft guns money can buy, used for M&P training. If you buy an upgrade for your existing gun there is a good chance it will come from Systema.
Tanaka – Known for their pistols, Tanaka makes a lot of really high quality gas rifles as well.
Tokyo Marui – The inventors of the AEG, Tokyo Marui AEGs are extremely reliable and upgradable, probably more so than the other big three companies. However, Japanese law prohibits them from selling metal bodies. Their plastics are of very high quality though.
Western Arms – Famous for their 1911 replicas, Western Arms makes incredible full metal GBB handguns.
KWC – Company out of Taiwan, make a lot of gas powered guns with licensed trademarks.
APS/Javelin – Newcomer to the Airsoft game. Supposedly they made paintball markers and switched over when they noticed Airsoft was becoming popular. These guys make a lot of EBB guns and they seem to be fairly reliable.
WE-Tech – Largely a pistol manufacturer, provide clones of higher end models at a lower price.
Echo 1 – American company that sells their own versions of guns from various companies such as Jing Gong, Kart, CYMA and D-Boys
Entry Range/Chinese Brands:
Aftermath – American company that rebrands guns from various Chinese manufacturers.
Crosman – Crosman is the Wal-Mart brand. Basically all of their guns are low quality guns for the very young beginner.
CYMA – Chinese company that makes TM clones among other things, popular among beginners.
D-Boys – Sell a lot of M4s and have a very popular SCAR. They are one of the more reliable Chinese companies and known for having better externals than the competition.
Double Eagle – TM clones and LPEGs.
Game Face – Although these are sold by Crosman, they are actually the Classic Army Sportline series of guns. The internals are downgraded Classic Army gearboxes, and the externals are plastic.
Jing Gong – Extremely popular brand among beginners, these are probably the most durable and well built guns to come out of China.
Under The Gun (UTG) – Airsoft division of well-known outdoors company Leapers. They make a lot of tactical gear, and also have a line of low cost sniper rifles. They currently sell one AEG, an AK-47.
Unicorn Hobby Corp – Mostly known for cheap but reliable springers, UHC also has a line of popular low cost sniper rifles.
UK Arms – Low quality company that imports from China.
These are not all the Airsoft manufacturers by any means, and the tiers I’ve placed them in are probably arguable, but I hope that the list will help you to better understand the rather complicated world of Airsoft manufacturers. I’ve tried to place them in tiers based on what price you can pick them up for. Classic Army, Tokyo Marui, and ICS are the biggest companies and you can generally always trust products from these guys. Classic Army tends to be a bit pricier, but they have amazingly detailed full metal bodies. TM invented the AEG and features extremely reliable and durable components, but you can’t buy them with metal bodies. ICS guns are very nice, and actually what I shoot, but one downside is that they tend to be a little iffy with non-ICS components. It can be difficult to find the official ICS pieces they need, and you might have to end up doing some fabrication to make pieces from other companies fit. I recommend any of these three companies, and also Jing Gong or Echo 1 if you don’t want to spend much on your first gun.
The THIRD and final rule of not getting ripped off when shopping for an Airsoft gun is to do your research. Before making the commitment and buying a gun, make sure you are getting what you want. Many online resources are available that will give you all the pros and cons of the replica you are considering. If you can’t find any information simply sign up for an Airsoft forum (like our HobbyTron forums), and create a thread. There are a ton of people out there who really like talking about Airsoft and who will be glad to help you out. If you shop at the proper places, buy from a trusted brand, and do your research before buying, you will get exactly the gun you want. So grab a gun from HobbyTron and I will see you on the field.