If you’re new to the nerf hobby or our dart tagging hobby, it is important to know that there are different types of darts and ammo and that some perform better than others. You want your blaster to perform the way you intend it to, and the ammo you use will affect that. Whatever game you’re playing, whether it be Player vs Player or Humans vs Zombies, the ammo that you use will affect how you play, the blaster you use, and the gear that you will need to build your loadout.
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I think that we can separate all types of foam ammo into two categories, the ammo you use the most is your primary use ammo, and your secondary/special ammo is for targets that your primary ammo can’t tag. Your primary ammo will usually be darts or Rival balls (Vortex would also fall here, but it wasn’t very common even when it was available. This will be its only mention). Your secondary/special ammo is your MEGA darts, MEGA XL, arrows, and rockets. Before we get into the details, do not buy NERF-branded Elite darts. They’re expensive and inaccurate; they’re just the absolute worst.
Darts are by far the most common primary ammo type, and in 2022, there are a lot of different darts to choose from. Some darts also have different dart heads; wider dart heads, like waffle darts, won’t work well in springers because of barrel drag but will perform better in flywheelers because they can grip the wheels more. There are two primary dart types: Full-lengths and short darts. Full-lengths are your standard “Elite”-sized darts that come with most all toy dart blasters and are usually seen in casual / low-FPS games or Humans vs Zombies. The only benefit is their commonality, but short darts are so readily available now that this is barely the benefit it once was. For the most part, they have become rare since when you get higher-performing blasters, full-lengths can’t handle the higher power and will fishtail. If you’re interested in higher-performing blasters, the short dart reigns supreme.
Short darts have proven to have way better accuracy at farther ranges, and that’s reason enough to switch over. Short darts are the definitive best ammo type in the hobby. They require short dart magazines (Talon mags get the highest recommendation as they are the hobby standard and can be bought on the shop here), but their smaller size allows you to carry a lot more of them in less space on your gear. Mainly used from 150fps to 300fps in both springers and flywheelers, short darts can be used at any FPS, making them very versatile.
They used to be more difficult to obtain in bulk, and your blaster had to be made or modified to use short darts. But now, in 2022, short darts are easy to buy in bulk, and tons of blasters are made to use short darts right out of the box. Dart Zone currently sells three types of short darts: Adventure Force Pro darts, Dart Zone Max darts, and Bamboo 2.0 darts. The Adventure Force Pro dart can be bought at Walmart (100 for $10), and Dart Zone Max darts can be purchased at Target (150 for $15) for $0.10 per dart. Target will sometimes have sales, and the Dart Zone Max darts go between $8-$9, making them even cheaper. The Bamboo 2.0 darts are sold on Amazon (200 for $30) and shoot a little faster due to their lighter weight, but they are more expensive.
However, the best short darts on the market are the red Worker Gen3+ HE darts. They have a great weight to them, with stronger glue and a denser foam that gives them higher accuracy and better longevity. They are a little harder to get since they can’t be bought off shelves, but I think they are well worth it. I am currently switching my ammo from the old purple Worker Gen3s to the new red Worker Gen3+ HEs. I even bought ones with glow-in-the-dark tips, so I can use them with a tracer unit if I want. If you’re planning to play a lot in this hobby, I think it is well worth just committing to a short dart loadout and saving yourself the headache. It’s a lot more fun when your darts go where you want them to.
The last of the primary ammo types are Rival rounds. Rival ammo are foam balls, and they are fairly accurate at around 30-40 feet. The advantage of Rival, compared to darts, is their ability to have an absurd ammo capacity and rate of fire. Many Rival blasters use hoppers to have 50+ rounds of capacity and are easy to reload quickly.
That high capacity, along with a high fire rate, makes Rival excellent for suppression fire on the battlefield and when taking on the zombie hoard in HvZ. But know that Rival ammo tends to swerve off at about 40 feet, and the performance maxes out at about 130 FPS. Genuine NERF ammo can be found for a reasonable price, sometimes on sale, and you can find Dart Zone’s Ballistic Ops rounds that are compatible. It’s an all-around great choice for super-stock wars, HvZ, and close-quarters battles.
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Moving over to secondary/special ammo like MEGA, MEGA XL, and rockets, these are the ammo types that can tag out specific players or targets that your primary ammo can’t. The inclusion of secondary/special ammo, given their larger size and lower performance, adds a variety of game mechanics on the field. These game mechanics can include shield players, melee players (like United Nerf Op’s Jedi Class), or special zombies. Adding game mechanics like these can make player interactions a lot of fun, and it forces you to add a secondary/special ammo type to your loadouts to counter them.
Honestly, the only NERF-branded ammo you should buy is your secondary/special ammo (MEGA and MEGA XL). Their MEGA Accustrike darts are great, and I have seen MEGA XL darts go on sale for $3 for a 10-pack. Rockets or missiles have a similar use case in games, but they're harder to get in bulk due to NERF not making them anymore. Again, depending on your game type, you might not need these, but they’re fun and have a great spot in our hobby.
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Now, there are ammo types you should avoid either because they aren’t allowed or just aren’t worth the effort to get. First, I would say any dart that has a hard plastic tip and doesn’t properly squish is an immediate no. Most, if not all, clubs ban hard-tipped darts for safety reasons, and there’s a good chance that they could burn out flywheels if they get stuck. The same goes for some rival-compatible rounds; Headshot recently started selling ammo that was way too hard. Safety is a priority, and no one wants to get hurt or hurt anyone else.
I also can’t really recommend HYPER rounds. They’re like Rival but made of rubber and are about half the size. I think they’re a bit too small, which makes them hard to clean up. Since many clubs play in public parks, we try to mitigate the mess we make after games. Additionally, the blasters don’t really seem to be all that exciting, so I don’t really think it’s worth getting into HYPER.
Similarly, While ULTRA darts themselves aren’t awful, the blasters that have come out aren’t really worth are looking into. The ULTRA magazines are also hard to obtain, and there now two types of incompatible magazines, which is super weird.
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That’s it then. This is your standard guide for the different ammo types in our hobby. If you’re planning to play with higher-performing blasters, short darts are absolutely the way you want to go. short darts are way more efficient and perform way better than any ammo type. Both the blasters and darts are super easy to get off store shelves and online, so there really isn’t any excuse to not build your loadout using short darts. Obviously, this can depend on what game type you’re playing, but short darts are good pretty much anywhere. full-lengths are getting mostly phased out because of this, and Rival fares better with closer engagement ranges. Your secondary/special ammo types are great to add variety with special game mechanics. They’re not essential, but they’re available. Hope all of this helps for new players joining the hobby! - FS