Airsoft comes with a lot of terminology, slang, and buzzwords that new players can often find confusing.
When you first spend a day in the field, you might think that people are speaking another language.
Here at Riflepal, we’re on hand to walk any rookies through the basics, or any veterans who could do with a refresher.
To begin, we ask the question – what does FPS mean in airsoft? Does it impact your games? Is it important, and if so, why?
Read on to be enlightened with our airsoft jargon buster.
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What Does FPS Stand For? Too Long, Didn’t Read
While there is a lot more to this particular terminology than simply explaining what it stands for, in the interests of not beating about the bush, here’s the answer.
In this context, FPS stands for Feet Per Second.
Not to be confused with Frames Per Second in the photography and video world.
And while it’s a well-known phrase in airsoft circles, it’s a universally understood unit when it comes to measuring the speed and velocity of any moving object or projectile.
Which, in this case, refers to airsoft (and paintball) guns firing their ammunition downrange – and gives an indication as to how powerful they are.
Let’s take a look in more detail, because this sciencey stuff is actually very important in combat sports – particularly when it comes to purchasing your first gun.
Airsoft Guns – How Powerful Are They?
Let’s put things in perspective with an average FPS comparison table.
|Variable||Feet Per Second (FPS)|
|Cheetah top speed||117|
|Formula 1 car||338|
|Speed of sound||1124|
|Speed of light||984,251,969|
Bear in mind that this information is largely based on averages, but you get the idea.
The actual FPS of a standard airsoft gun can vary from 250-400 FPS, which means it can propel a BB pellet between 170-272 Miles Per Hour.
And with modifications, some airsoft weapons can reach 700 FPS and maybe more.
Thankfully, airsoft guns that are that powerful are restricted to target shooting, and prohibited from the field.
But while not even close to causing the amount of damage as that of a real firearm, 400 FPS is still going to sting, so you’d better make sure you’re wearing protection – especially some good airsoft goggles.
And you should check out this article on what to wear for airsoft to make sure you’re fully protected – no matter the gun’s FPS rating.
Why Does FPS Matter in Airsoft?
There are a number of key factors as to why your gun’s feet per second capability will have an impact on the game.
The first – and most important – is for safety.
All airsoft (and paintball) fields and arenas will have a maximum FPS limit imposed in-house. This is to ensure everyone is more-or-less on an even keel, gameplay is fair, and safety protocols are adhered to.
And this limit will vary, depending on the guns in play, and the location, type, and size of the playing area.
Indoor games will require lower FPS limits, for example.
Sniper rifles are allowed more FPS than close quarter weapons – and you should check out this review of the best airsoft sniper rifles for some great examples.
On average, a typical outdoor US field will impose a 400 FPS limit on AEGS, with perhaps a 500 limit on long-range hardware.
For indoor play, expect 300-350 FPS limits. Some fields, both indoor and out, impose minimum engagement distances, so you can’t fire at a player when under that range.
Obviously, the higher the FPS, the more the pellet is going to hurt. At around 200 FPS, you might feel a flick, but a 400 FPS pellet is seriously going to leave a mark.
For more information on combat sport pain, take a look at this article to find out if airsoft or paintball hurts more.
Custom games on private land can impose whatever FPS limits they want – but just remember anything much over 400 is going to hurt like hell, and possibly cause serious injury – especially from close range.
Aside from this, FPS is obviously going to be a factor in how far your airsoft gun is capable of shooting.
The higher the FPS, the greater the range of your weapon.
However, this typically doesn’t matter in an airsoft field, (particularly CQB games) so long as your gun is well-tuned and performing to the best of its ability.
One of the main reasons new players want the most powerful, highest FPS on the field, is down to marketing.
When shopping for quality airsoft pistols, for example, manufacturers like to put a “badge of honor” on their guns, and entice new players with how powerful their products can shoot right out of the box.
This is especially true (and surprising) when it comes to entry-level weapons, but in the end, for most competitive airsoft games, you’re not going to need any more than 300-350 FPS.
And, to be honest, you’re hardly going to notice a 50 FPS difference when you’re in the field, anyway.
How is this Unit Measured?
You might be wondering where all this data comes from, and how we’re able to understand the FPS rates of these guns?
We’re certainly not standing around with a stopwatch and a yard stick.
The device used to measure feet per second with airsoft and paintball guns is called a ballistic chronograph. Or, a speed tester, in simpler terms.
It’s an inexpensive instrument that you can fire a BB into, and it will give you a digital readout of how fast that pellet is traveling in FPS – as well as some other useful data, depending on the quality of the instrument.
All airsoft fields should have their own chronograph in order to adhere to field limits when checking player’s guns.
However, I highly recommend purchasing your own machine to use at home, particularly if you intend on modifying and customizing your collection of weapons in the future, and ensuring you’re within field limits when you arrive to play.
When it comes to truly defining how hard an airsoft gun is firing, we need to bring Joules into the equation.
Joules is a unit of kinetic energy that is transferred to an object by force. A good speed tester should also show a measurement in Joules, which will give you a better indication of how powerful your airsoft gun is firing.
It provides more accurate data than FPS for one main reason.
The FPS is affected by a variety of factors (more on this below) most notably the weight of the BB pellet itself.
However, regardless of BB weight, the measurement of Joules will always remain the same, and as such it is more useful for comparing the power of your weapon to that of other players in the field.
What Affects FPS?
There are several outside (and inside) influencers on the speed and velocity that your airsoft gun is capable of producing.
The actual weight of the ammunition is one of the most important. Most guns fire BB pellets that weigh 0.20 grams, but lighter and heavier options are available, and will change the gun’s FPS when in use.
This is particularly true of many entry-level weapons, which fire 0.12 gram pellets. The heavier the BB, the lower the FPS rate is going to be.
Remember, though, that although lighter BBs might fly faster, they’re also going to fly all over the place, and you’ll notice a distinct drop in accuracy.
Try kicking a pro soccer ball and a plastic version exactly the same way to see a great example of this in action.
This FPS/Joules/BB weight chart is an excellent resource for all airsoft guns – and what you can and can’t use on the field of play, for both US and UK arenas.
Don’t forget to always use top-quality airsoft ammo in your guns. Don’t cut corners, as not only will cheap pellets perform poorly, but they can damage your gun in the process.
The conditions on the day can often be an overlooked factor. Firing into a headwind – for example – is seriously going to reduce the power and affect the flight of your shots.
Likewise, when it comes to running airsoft games in winter – as the cold can take its toll on the inner workings of your weapon, and negatively affect FPS.
This is particularly true with gas-powered models, and you should take a look at this article on the differences between green gas and Co2 to find out which performs better in colder conditions, and will give you a more consistent FPS rating over the course of the game.
Finally, don’t overlook the actual quality of the weapon – most notably the barrel itself – particularly the length. Longer barrels usually result in an increase in range, all things being equal.
This is seriously going to have an impact on how straight and true your shots fly, as well as their FPS rating and shot grouping.
Does the Type of Gun Matter?
Yes and no. For the most part, a cheap, spring-action, single-shot, gas-station bought pistol isn’t going to have close to the FPS rating as a fully pimped, customized Tokyo Marui AEG.
Having said that, some spring bolt-action sniper rifles can seriously up the FPS rate over, say, gas-powered pistols.
And speaking of gas guns, there’s going to be a difference in FPS when it comes to the type of gas you’re actually running. Take a look at this article on green gas vs red gas vs black gas to see exactly what I mean.
Either way, FPS is going to vary from gun to gun, player to player, rather than the type of gun platform itself. You can have a more powerful Colt 1911 than a full auto MP5, and vice versa, for example.
This article on gas vs electric guns should also provide you with more food for thought on the subject.
Can You Increase/Decrease FPS in an Airsoft Gun?
One of the many reasons airsoft attracts new players, is the possibility of customizing and upgrading your gun and loadout.
It’s a challenging but ultimately rewarding part of the community.
But it depends upon the type and quality of the individual weapon whether you can actually make any significant modifications.
To answer the question – yes, it is possible to adjust the FPS of your airsoft gun, again, providing it offers that capability from the start.
While there are some awesome cheap airsoft guns on the market, not all of them are going to be as customizable as others.
And regardless of the quality of the weapon, if you want to make adjustments, you’re going to need to get inside.
If this is something you’re interested in, make sure you bear that in mind before purchasing your first gun. There isn’t much you can do to impact FPS externally.
There might be occasions when your gun is a little on the weak side for field limits, and you can address this with upgrades to bring it more in line with what other players are running.
Your first port of call should be to upgrade the spring in your airsoft gun. That is arguably the most important modification you can make when it comes to increasing FPS.
And it goes both ways – if your gun is too powerful, use a weaker spring to lower the FPS rate.
You can also look to upgrade or fine-tune your hop-up system and gearbox.
Most airsoft guns come with a “hop-up” which is a device that imparts backspin on every BB shot, in order to ensure the pellet remains in the air for longer, without dipping prematurely.
Hop up, compression parts, and gearbox tweaks can bump up your FPS, but please be aware this isn’t advised for beginners, and for the miniscule amount of difference it makes, it’s probably not worth it.
Remember, even with the best intentions, fooling around with the inner workings of your gun might ruin the thing altogether, especially if you’re inexperienced at such a practice.
My advice is to buy or borrow a cheap gun you can experiment with, and go from there.
Take a look at this article on the different types of airsoft guns, so you can get a feel for what’s out there, and give you an idea what you can play with when it comes to creating Frankenstein’s monster.
And the video below will give you an idea on how to LOWER the FPS rate on gas blowback guns, which are often too powerful when it comes to fitting in with field limits.
We’ve all been there – new airsoft players who want to max-out the power and performance of their guns, and destroy everyone else on the field in the process.
But the fact of the matter is – it’s simply not necessary, nor is it legal. More isn’t better, in this case.
By all means feel free to customize your gun to reach the pinnacle of performance, and use it for plinking targets – but you’re not going to be allowed a 600 + FPS rifle down your local field.
This article will have more sensible airsoft rifles you can use instead.
Stick to developing your skills as an airsoft player, and fine-tuning your loadout, rather than demanding the most powerful gun right out of the box.
And learn about these top airsoft brands for more information, to discover the best guns and gear for your style of place.
Airsoft is a sport that’s filled with a lot of technical terms and slang – such as what does FPS mean?
But with practice, experience, and articles like this one, you should soon be up to speed on the jargon, and not feel like you’ve suddenly moved to another country.
Let me know if you’ve found this information helpful, or even if there’s anything you’d like us to specifically cover in the future.
Stay safe out there, call those hits, and happy airsofting!