How to Upgrade Your Airsoft Guns
If you’re new to the airsoft hobby and have played a match or two, you may have noticed a difference in how veterans play. Of course, a good deal of their performance can be attributed to skill, but having the right equipment plays a huge part in it as well.
Whether casual or official, airsoft matches can be a very competitive activity. Everyone wants to get the upper hand, but this is where upgrading your equipment comes into play. Many airsoft guns are fine out of the box, but upgrading them is a good idea to get the most out of your equipment.
Do I Really Need to Upgrade?
The need for upgrading depends on how involved you are in the hobby. If you only play rarely and only for casual matches, then there’s no pressing necessity to upgrade your weapon. If you play often, however, then upgrades are practically necessary, even if only to improve the durability of your gun. The ample reasons why players choose to upgrade are as follows:
No two matches are ever alike, both in terms of field conditions and usually in rules of engagement. Some hosts, for example, require less than 300 FPS speeds during CQB or close-quarters battle and no shooting at less than 15 feet. Some hosts are fine with 350 FPS and have no limits at the distance that you can fire at your opponents. There are field matches that are perfectly ok with setting a 400 FPS maximum for airsoft rifles.
If your weapon is firing way below the limit, you’re playing at a handicap against enemies who can shoot farther than you can. If you have a gun that exceeds the maximum allowable speed, then you might not be able to play at all. Being able to adjust the FPS of your gun puts you on a level playing field, both literally and figuratively.
In general, the majority of airsoft manufacturers sell quality products. However, not all items are created the same, and some materials will always be more durable than others. Metal frames, for example, will always stand up to more punishment than one made of plastic.
Airsoft is a very physical hobby. Engagements can involve a lot of running, and accidents do happen. Field matches are out in the open and may expose your equipment to dirt, mud, or water. Your guns must be able to endure these conditions because, in the heat of battle, a malfunction may be the difference between a win and a loss.
Accuracy and Handling
The quality of sights, stocks, grips, and barrels are important in airsoft matches because they’re what helps in target acquisition. The accuracy and handling of your weapon depend on how well you can control and aim it during chaotic moments in a match.
Stocks and grips need to be ergonomic, so it’s easy to swing the weapon around at a moment’s notice without stressing your joints and muscles. Some sights can be replaced to predict where your shot will land more accurately. Internal hop-up mechanisms can be used to adjust the trajectory of your ammunition depending on field conditions. All of these combine to help make you an effective airsoft player.
There’s nothing wrong with having your gear be both effective and aesthetically pleasing. There are a lot of airsoft players that try to go for a theme when it comes to equipment. Many airsoft replicas try to mimic iconic weapons or period guns, but some need a bit of tweaking to be 100% accurate. Some prefer their weapons to match their camo suits, so they buy skins for their rifles.
Handguard rails are an example of increasing the utility of your rifle while improving its cool factor. Some Picatinny rail systems give rifles an aggressive aesthetic while allowing you to mount various accessories to gain a tactical advantage.
What Do You Upgrade on Your Airsoft Gun?
Now that you’ve decided to improve upon your out-of-the-box airsoft weapon, the question is, what exactly to upgrade on your gun. With the numerous mods and accessories available on the market, this can be daunting to beginners who have no idea what they’re doing.
Here are a few simple guides on which parts of your equipment you may want to modify depending on how you want to improve. Whether it’s better FPS, easier aiming, improved handling, or just for looks, here are what you should be upgrading.
Internal Airsoft Upgrades
One of the main upgrades that you can do to your airsoft gun is to replace some of its internal components. These upgrades will affect either FPS, ammo trajectory, improve overall weapon performance, or allow your weapon to last longer during a fight.
Many of these upgrades require a bit of mechanical skill and should be done after a good deal of research. Because you’re going to be modifying many of the systems that make your gun work, careless mistakes are likely to ruin your gun. If you’re not confident enough to do it yourself, your FPS retailer or events organizer should know someone who can provide the service for a fee. The various internal mechanisms that you can modify on your airsoft gun are as follows:
Internal Gearbox Upgrades
Gearboxes are features of the electric airsoft gun and are typically upgraded to withstand stress from higher voltage batteries. The parts in the gearbox generally upgraded are the springs, gears, pistons, cylinder, and nozzle.
Springs are the main powerhouses of the electric airsoft gun. It’s what determines the velocity of the bullet.
Airsoft springs are usually marked with either M or SP followed by a number that indicates meters per second. For example, an M110 means that it will launch your ammo at a theoretical 110 meters per second. The difference between M and SP is that the speed of M is determined using .20 gram BBs, while SP uses .25 grams.
Gear upgrades usually relate to the size of the gear and the number of teeth. The larger the contact is between the gears, the more durable it is.
Cylinders, pistons, and nozzles usually come as a set, and mixing brands isn’t recommended due to possible compatibility issues. The typical upgrade for a cylinder set has increased durability to accommodate higher voltage batteries.
Hop-up systems give a spin to the BB as they leave the gun, which affects the shot’s trajectory. This is important to adjust the accuracy of your weapon before a match. The most common hop-up systems in regular airsoft guns are the standard and the H hop-up.
Standard hop-ups make contact with the center of the BB as it leaves the barrel, giving it that backspin. The disadvantage of this is that because it only has one contact point, the BB has a tendency to spin to the right or left.
H hop-ups make contact on both the left and right parts of the BB, giving it more stability. Most airsoft guns come with the standard hop-up system, so many decide to upgrade to the H hop-up system for better accuracy.
Upgrading the Power Source
Airsoft guns come with three types of power sources: mechanical springs, gas cartridges, or electric batteries. Unless you’re using sniper rifles, spring airsoft guns don’t see much use in actual play. This means that you’ll either be using an electric or gas-powered gun. Upgrades for each type are as follows:
Electric Battery Upgrades
When you wish to upgrade your gun’s battery, the first thing to know is what voltage and mAh rating to get. Essentially, voltage is how much power the battery can produce and, as such, affects the rate of fire of your gun. The mAh rating, on the other hand, refers to how much power can be stored in your battery and will affect how long you can use it before needing a recharge.
Typically, you’ll want to get a battery with the highest mAh rating that can still fit onto your gun. Refer to your gun’s manual to see what sizes of batteries it can comfortably use. The voltage, on the other hand, is a trickier subject. Higher voltages increase the rate of fire, especially in semi-auto mode, but will cause stress on gearboxes unless they’ve been upgraded too.
The next thing you’ll need to decide is which kind of battery to get. The most common batteries available are NiMH or Nickel Metal Hydride and LIPO or Lithium Polymer. Nickel Cadmium and Lithium-Ion batteries exist but are relatively rare and usually more expensive. There’s typically no reason to get the rarer battery types unless your gun came with one out of the box.
NiMH batteries are great for beginners as they’re not easy to overcharge. They come in either 8.4 Volts or 9.6 Volts. Most airsoft rifles come with NiMH batteries as default, and 9.6 Volt batteries won’t stress your gears too much. Unless you’re planning to upgrade your gearboxes as well, it’s best to stick to NiMH batteries.
On the other hand, LIPO batteries come in 7.4 and 11.1 Volt varieties. They’re currently the most popular type because of the higher voltage produced.
However, the caveat is that both your motors and gears must be able to handle the added stress that this may cause. LIPO batteries also require care in handling, or they might malfunction. Choose LIPO batteries if your internal gears have also been upgraded.
It’s also important to know your battery pack connector. You can find out by looking at the plug on your battery pack. The two most common types are the Tamiya and the Deans connectors.
Mini Tamiya and Large Tamiya connectors have a round and square socket that connects to a similar plug. Deans connectors have vertical and horizontal sockets.
Another less common connector is the XT60. You can tell these apart by the one square and the one chamfered socket. Before buying a battery, know which type of connector your gun accepts.
Gas Powered Upgrades
Most airsoft gas-powered guns will have the cartridge in the grip or inside the magazine. Although technically, these cartridges can be changed, this has the chance of damaging the internals of your gun. Before deciding to use higher pressure cartridges, check to see if your weapon can handle the stress.
The most common gas guns are powered by green gas, red gas, black gas, or CO2. Red and black gas are variants of green gas stored under more pressure. Green gas is around 100 psi, while red gas comes at about 185 psi and black gas at 200 psi. The higher the pressure, the stronger your FPS. CO2 comes as high as 800 psi and easily propels ammo at 400 FPS.
Upgrading the barrel of an airsoft rifle is usually for durability rather than accuracy or range. A barrel’s length or the tightness of the bore does not affect how fast or far the BB flies. Those are affected by the hop-up, the gearbox, and the power source.
Replacing the Magazine
Depending on the airsoft gun you have, changing your magazine may either be a simple replacement or a significant upgrade. For electric pistols, the battery compartment may either be inside the frame just under the barrel or inside the magazine itself. Gas pistols usually have the cartridge on the magazine.
If the power source is inside the magazine, upgrading it might be impossible without changing the gun’s internals. Spare magazines aren’t much of an issue for batteries or cartridges on another part of the weapon. Airsoft rifles, on the other hand, usually don’t have this problem. The weapon is large enough for the power source to be located on another part of the rifle.
External Airsoft Upgrades
External upgrades aren’t as considerable as internal ones and are relatively lenient to mistakes. Getting an exterior installation wrong won’t break your gun, though there’s a chance that it may make it harder to use. These upgrades are more welcoming to DIY modders, and there are a lot of guides available to those that want to do it themselves.
External modifications usually improve a weapon’s aim, enhance handling, make it more ergonomic, or augment its durability. They can also allow your weapon to be more adaptable to changing battle conditions through the Picatinny rail system. Some of the available external mods that you can do are the following:
Changing Gun Sights
There are many different gun sights available, and it’s usually dependent on the user’s preference as to which one is better. The typical kinds are iron or open sights, peep sights, telescopic sights, reflex or dot sights, and laser sights.
Because airsoft guns are replicas of real weapons, many will come with open sights, the standard gun sights on the market. These are typically represented by a raised rear sight with a blade sight at the front of the barrel. Peep sights have a loop at the rear in which you line up the target with a front blade sight.
Telescopic sights or scopes use lenses to view distant targets. Reflex or dot sights use LED to project a red dot at the target that only you can see through your scope’s reticle. Alternatively, reflex sights improve accuracy significantly, but they’re costly. Lastly, laser sights are similar to red dot sights, but you and the target see the light.
Replacing Default Grips
Grips for both pistols and rifles are a matter of ergonomics. Better designed grips feel comfortable to hold and make it easier to swivel the weapon around. Most grips can easily be replaced by unscrewing the original and putting in a replacement.
Changing the Buttstock
As with grips, rifle buttstocks help with the aim and control of the weapon while firing. Getting a buttstock that fits snugly on your shoulders is essential as this will absorb your rifle’s recoil, especially if it has a blowback system.
Changing Slides and Frames
For pistols, slides and frames usually determine how durable the weapon can be. Slides and frames are generally made out of metal or high-strength polymer. Both are strong materials in their own right, and each has its advantages.
Metal is more resistant to impacts and resists being bent out of shape, while polymer parts are practically immune to corrosion. Metal parts also add to the gun’s weight which can be good or bad depending on certain factors. If you want a bit of realism, then the weight makes the gun more immersive. If you’re already carrying a lot of equipment, the added heft may be more of a negative.
Replacement parts for frames and slides will generally depend on the model of your gun. Glocks and M1911 models are a rather popular sidearm, so there are a lot of choices for parts. Unique replicas, on the other hand, may need custom work to get replacement parts.
Installing Rails and Mounts
One of the best external upgrades that you can make on your pistol or rifle is installing a Picatinny rail or a similar mounting system. This allows you to use other accessories simply by slotting them in the rails on the fly, making it very easy to adapt your weapon to every situation that may arise.
Most newly-released rifles and some pistols come with a rail system of some kind. If your gun isn’t compatible with a rail, other mounting systems should be available as an option.
Mountable Accessories and Camo
Accessories are probably some of the easiest upgrades you can make, as they require no disassembly of your gun. If your airsoft weapon already came with default Picatinny rails or accessory mounts, usually upgrading involves just sliding the accessory onto your gun.
Users often get these upgrades to improve the aesthetics of their weapon or give it camouflage. Other users install accessories to provide them with a tactical advantage during a match and give them more options for engagements.
Installing Tactical Lights
Mounted gun lights aren’t only used to illuminate an area but are also used to disorient a target. Your opponent can’t see you, and some tactical lights have a strobe setting for this purpose. When all it takes is a second to determine the winner and loser in an airsoft firefight, any advantage is welcome.
From laser sights to sniper scopes, installing optics on your weapon will require either a rail or mounting system. There are various sight options that you can choose from, and it depends on your comfortability.
Using Camo Wraps
Camo wraps are more of an aesthetic choice as most airsoft weapons come in colors that are already easy to conceal. There’s nothing wrong with having your rifle or pistol look good, so camo wraps are trendy. If you want your weapons to match the design of your gear, choosing a suitable camo wrap helps greatly.
Some airsoft gear isn’t for improving your gun but for improving how you play your game. These quality-of-life equipment make the game a lot more convenient and enjoyable to play. You don’t need these items, but having them can significantly enhance your airsoft experience.
Shooting an airsoft gun is fun. Having to reload the magazine afterward, however, is not so much. Speed reloaders help in that regard by doing most of the work for you. Rather than inserting BBs manually one by one, you can quickly fill even high-capacity magazines at the push of a lever.
Portable chronographs measure the FPS of your airsoft gun. This is handy if you want to make sure your weapons meet the maximum FPS rules of those hosting an airsoft event.
An Essential Part of Your Game
The more you learn about airsoft, the better you’ll understand what part of your equipment needs improving. Upgrading may seem daunting at first, but soon enough, it’ll become an essential ingredient in how you play your game.
Hopefully, this article has helped you decide what parts of your airsoft weapon need upgrades and how to approach upgrading in general. Augmenting your skills with efficient weapons not only increases your chance of winning but makes the hobby a lot more fun to play.