One of the factors that makes airsoft so popular is the sheer amount of replica hardware to choose from.

With so many options on the market, finding the right one can be a daunting prospect – even if you already have playing experience.

And while owning a primary weapon should be your first consideration, you also need a good airsoft backup gun in your loadout.

But why do you need one, what use is it, and which is the best platform to go for?

We’ll answer all these questions, and more, in this detailed guide to airsoft sidearms.

Let’s fire in.

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Secondary Airsoft Guns – Too Long, Didn’t Read

It can be frustrating wading through an entire article if you are in a rush and just want a quick answer – so here it is, the short version:

You need a secondary airsoft gun in case your primary weapon malfunctions runs out of ammo, is incapacitated in any way (due to in-house game rules), and/or for close-range safety purposes.

The type of gun you use for this sidearm could be a pistol, a shotgun, or a small machine gun – depending on your role and/or the type of game you’re running.

Now, there’s obviously much more to it than that, so I suggest reading on to discover some top tips and info for choosing the right secondary loadout for you.

man holding airsoft pistol in hands

Why You Need an Airsoft Backup Weapon

Airsoft can be an expensive hobby. Costs can add up, and getting started often puts many new potential players off.

Especially when owning more than one gun is actively encouraged – and, dare I say, essential.

In order to make an omelet you need to break some eggs, and I always adhere to the “buy once, cry once” principle. There are several reasons why you need a secondary airsoft gun.

First, is that your primary weapon might malfunction. Airsoft guns contain a lot of moving parts, and even with top-quality hardware, things can and do go wrong.

Common causes might be due to adverse weather conditions, aggressive use, poor maintenance practice, or even something as ridiculous as forgetting to fully charge the battery.

Hey – we’ve all been there – it happens to the best of us.

But if this occurs in the heat of battle, and you don’t have a backup – you’re as good as dead. Not to mention that it’s just no fun not being able to shoot enemy players anymore.

Aside from guns jamming, battery packs dying, or any kind of accidental breakages while throwing yourself around in the field – your primary weapon might simply run out of ammo.

And if you’re not wearing one of these awesome chest rigs packed with full magazines, then you could be all out of luck if you don’t have an alternative sidearm.

Even if you have enough ammo to start WW3, you might not be able to reload in time – and snatching up a secondary weapon could well keep you in the game in an intense encounter.

I believe that the mantra of “switching to your second is faster than reloading” is something commonly taught to the professionals – and a standard skill for first-person shooter video game players!

Then there’s the safety factor – particularly when running airsoft sniper rifles, or anything with a higher FPS rate. There will be a minimum engagement distance (MED) for powerful airsoft guns.

Therefore, you’re going to need something that you can safely use in close quarters – when you’re entering buildings, for example, or when an enemy player sneaks up on your position.

If you’ve got nothing but a rifle with a MED of 50 feet, then you’ll soon be packing your bags for the deadzone.

Some games have rules for when a gun is hit, and while it means the player isn’t eliminated (you got lucky) your weapon is now regarded as damaged, and cannot be used.

This might last until it is “fixed” by a medic or engineer, or until the end of that particular game or scenario.

And if the one and the only gun is now useless, without a secondary, you’re a dead person walking.

Also, consider the terrain and cover in which the game is taking place. Carrying a large weapon with a long barrel isn’t always practical around small doorways, tight corners, or narrow corridors – for example.

Players often switch to their smaller sidearm in such an environment, to allow them to move forward, defend themselves, and slip through smaller spaces on the front foot.

Finally, in addition to all the practical reasons you should have another airsoft gun, it’s just awesome to own one.

Let’s not kid ourselves here – this is why we play the game. The guns, the gear, the adrenaline, the fun. That’s the bottom line.

We don’t need an excuse to have a secondary weapon – we do it because we want to.

But if you’re still concerned about overspending, this article on the best cheap airsoft guns can help you get started – especially if you’re on a tighter budget.

man showing his military uniform and tactical equipment

How to Choose a Backup Airsoft Gun

Now you’ve come on board and realized that having a backup sidearm is pretty much vital, how do you go about choosing the right one?

Below, you’ll find some expert tips and advice to help point you in the right direction.

Airsoft Roles

As mentioned, the sheer amount of replica airsoft guns on the market is quite astonishing – even veteran players can get confused!

But before you start to freak out, the best way to narrow down the selection is to first identify the type of airsoft role you want to play.

Which might, in turn, depend upon the type of games you’re most commonly running.

For argument’s sake, we’ll be looking at MilSim (Military Simulation) and/or CQB (Close Quarter Battle) games. I include a note on speedsoft towards the end of this article.

In realistic skirmish games, depending on how serious you’re taking them, you’ll often have a choice of five to seven roles within a team.

These include team leader, assault, support, designated rifleman, scout, and sniper. Grenadier and medic can also be added/interchanged.

While a good sidearm is highly recommended for each role, I would say that for the support, scout, sniper, grenadier, and medic roles, having a backup weapon is pretty much essential.

For more information, take a look at this article on the different types of airsoft roles – so you can choose the one that most interests you.

Secondary Weapon Types

Your primary weapon is most likely going to be a good-quality AEG Automatic Electric Gun – and if you don’t yet have one, you can follow that link for some great options.

Unless, of course, you’re a sniper – in which case a long-range gun will be preferred, and you should also be brushing up on these top-tips for airsoft snipers to help improve your game.

(Alternatively, if you’re still a little unsure what’s out there, this article on the different types of airsoft guns might be of use – although we do explain some of them in the paragraphs, below.)

For a secondary gun, the most popular options are pistols, shotguns, and small machine guns (SMG).

While some players do use a backup airsoft rifle (particularly if playing the support role, which typically requires more firepower), smaller, more compact guns are preferred – and generally make more sense within the construct of the game.


By far the most popular secondary weapon choice – is the classic airsoft backup pistol. There’s a strong chance that 90% of the players at your local field will have one – regardless of the role they’re playing.

This is for a number of reasons – they’re immensely fun to shoot, compact and easy to carry, highly realistic (particularly gas-powered models), and they are commonly the first gun new players purchase.

I recommend owning an airsoft pistol before an AEG when you’re just starting out, and to that end, you’ll likely already have some hardware you can use as a sidearm.

Aside from that, they make ideal close-quarter weapons and can be drawn in a heartbeat if your primary gun goes down. Just ask John Wick.

I would highly recommend that snipers use a pistol as a secondary sidearm because anything else is going to be too bulky alongside your primary rifle.

Furthermore, all airsofters should enjoy the thrill of a gas-powered blowback gun (GBBG) at some point in their lives, and pistols simply excel on this platform.

This article will teach you about the differences between gas and electric weapons – and why you should have a gas option in your locker.

Take a look at this article on the best airsoft pistols on the market – you won’t be disappointed in the choice.

And this review is all about the best tactical drop-leg holsters – for both real steel and replica use – so you can look absolutely badass in the field, all while keeping your sidearm right where you need it.

Pistol Disadvantages

To help make your choice a little easier, and in the interests of fairness, here are some downsides to using a pistol as a backup sidearm.

  • Their range and power is limited.
  • A good one can be expensive.
  • Plastic models are prone to breakages.
  • Gas can be temperamental in certain weather conditions.
  • They will require regular maintenance.


Another backup airsoft option is to use a shotgun. They might be a little more cumbersome than pistols, but they’re perfect for CQB when clearing room to room.

That, and they’re an absolute blast to use. Whenever I’m discussing this weapon platform, it always makes me think of Corporal Hicks in the movie Aliens, who kept one handy for “close encounters.”

Choose a more lightweight, compact option if you’re using it as a secondary, and it’ll be easier to carry and move through buildings with.

And because of their less-complex, spring-powered design, they also have the advantage of being cheaper than airsoft pistols, for the most part.

The best airsoft shotguns article should point you in the right direction. Strap one to your back, and not only will it be highly intimidating to your opponents – you’ll look so goddamn cool while you’re at it.

Shotgun Disadvantages

Again, here’s a list of the downsides for this particular weapon platform.

  • Shoguns can be heavy and bulky.
  • Your movement might be restricted.
  • Low rate of fire and ammo capacity.
  • Commonly needs to be fired with two hands.
  • Limited range.

Small Machine Guns (SMGs)

If you’re looking for a higher rate of fire in your backup airsoft gun than a pistol or shotgun, perhaps an SMG is the way to go.

Look at how mobile the soldiers are carrying those compact MP5s in Netflix’s Squid Game – for example.

Easy to sling around your back, they’re an ideal choice for support roles, where you need to keep the pressure on with mag dumps when charging enemy positions – or maybe covering a retreat.

There’s an astonishing array of SMGs on the market, and something to suit every budget. They’re also hugely popular among players who like to emulate special forces and play black ops games.

SMGs make a great choice for the team’s medic, for example, and as mentioned I would suggest any variation of the MP5 platform as a solid sidearm option.

SMG Disadvantages

Below you’ll find a selection of downsides to using a small machine gun as your secondary weapon.

  • Can be bulky and difficult to holster/carry.
  • Often not the best quality.
  • A good one is expensive (especially for a sidearm).

A Word on Speedsoft

Speedsoft is a more fast-paced version of airsoft, fought in close quarters, with little downtime. Realism isn’t the primary goal – eliminating opponents as fast as possible is.

And hi-cap (high capacity) pistols are often a player’s primary weapon.

With that in mind, secondary sidearms aren’t usually necessary for speedsoft, as it’s just not useful or practical for gameplay. There’s just no time to use one.

Still, you’re more than welcome to carry an extra piece of hardware – it’s entirely up to you. And check out this article for more information on speedsoft if this high-speed airsoft version sounds like your bag.

airsoft replica gun and tactical gear

Maintenance and Modifications

Before closing, there is one more important consideration when it comes to choosing the right airsoft sidearm for you. Indeed – when it comes to choosing any airsoft weapon, for that matter.

I highly recommend you go for a gun that offers access to plentiful spare parts, can be easily upgraded and modified, and is simple and straightforward to maintain.

For new airsoft players – particularly those on a budget – this is one of the most vital pieces of advice you will ever learn.

This article on airsoft gun maintenance is another useful resource to help keep your weapons operating at peak performance, while improving their longevity, and keeping costs down.

The Final Verdict

At the end of the day, running a secondary sidearm in airsoft is going to be entirely up to you. If you have the budget, and it’s something that suits your loadout and interests, then you should go for it.

But unless you’re a sniper, truth be told you don’t need a backup gun for airsoft. Providing your main weapon is well-tuned, reliable, and consistent, you can easily get by without one.

Many players who have a secondary gun report that they rarely use it – if at all – because their number-one rifle is such a well-maintained beast.

Having said that, it’s still so much fun to have one, particularly as it allows you the option of enjoying multiple gun platforms and power types in your loadout. Rocking gas and electric guns are awesome.

And the old adage is true – “I’d rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it.”

When it comes down to brass tacks, I would say get a secondary every single time. After all, putting together an impressive armory is one of the most addictive aspects of airsoft in the first place.


Having an airsoft backup gun is highly recommended if you’re in any way serious about the sport. Aside from the realism and safety factors, it could well be the difference between victory and defeat.

And let’s face it – they’re loads of fun, too!

Let me know your thoughts on the subject, including which loadout you prefer, and/or anything I’ve missed that could be useful for the community.

Stay safe out there, call your hits and happy airsofting!