The following is a beginner-level guide describing all of the ways to earn weapons and cosmetic items in TF2. For details on items, gameplay, or anything else Team Fortress related, be sure to bookmark The Official TF2 Wiki.
[Updated 9/12/15: Added section listing all-class hats that can be earned.]
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So you’ve just started playing TF2, learned some maps, captured some points, and found a couple of nifty items. But other players are blowing you up with awesome weapons while wearing ridiculous hats. How can you get more weapons and cosmetic items? That’s what this guide is for, so read on!
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Table of Contents
0. Being Free-to-Play vs. Being Premium
1. Earn Items By Playing TF2
- Achievement Items
- Unlockable Cosmetics
- The Item Drop System
- Mann vs. Machine Mode
2. Crafting Items: What to Do with Metal, Crates, and Robot Parts
3. Buying Items From the Mann Co. Store or the Steam Market
- Explanation of Item Qualities like Stranges or Unusuals
4. Trading Items With Other Players
5. Free Unusuals!
6. What To Do If You Have Too Many Items
7. Helpful Links
0. First: Are you Free-to-Play?
There are two kinds of TF2 accounts: free-to-play accounts and premium accounts.
- Free-to-play (or “F2P”) accounts only get one page of 50 inventory slots, limited crafting options, can only drop some basic items, and most importantly, have limited trading options.
- Premium accounts start with six pages of inventory slots (300 total), have full crafting options, can drop basic and rare items, and have normal trading options.
So if you are free-to-play, you will not have full access to all of the kinds of items out there. But there are a couple of ways to gain a premium account:
- Buy something in the Mann Co. Store, anything at all, no minimum. A single US$0.49 weapon is all you need.
- Buy the Orange Box from the Steam Store, which grants you a Premium TF2 account as well as other Valve games.
- Have someone trade or gift you an Upgrade to Premium Gift, which is a tool item that makes your account premium when used.
Why would someone give you a Premium Gift? Doing so grants the giver a Professor Speks accessory, or adds to the counter of their existing Professor Speks.
If you make a purchase that upgrades your account to premium, you are asked to refer one person on your friends list as someone who has helped you in the game. That person is awarded a Professor Speks, or adds to its counter.
Now that you know your status, here are all of the ways that you can acquire new items:
1. Earn Items By Playing the Game
Earn “Achievement Items”
There are hundreds of achievements to earn in Team Fortress 2. Just play the game, and if you complete a specific task, the achievement will unlock and announce it to everyone on the server. You can check which achievements you have or haven’t learned in your Steam Client. If you earn enough class-specific achievements, you will unlock one of three weapons available for each class. These items significantly change the role or options available for that class, such as a Sandvich healing item for the Heavy, or a Hunstman bow that replaces the Sniper’s rifle! Here is the full list of 27 achievement weapons in TF2.
Note: These achievement-reward items have the untradable trait, so you can’t trade them away later. And if you use them to craft metal or another item, the resulting item will carry that untradable trait, and the game will warn you that that will occur. This is to keep players from having dozens of separate Steam accounts just to farm for items. Only achievement-reward items will have the untradable trait.
Unlockable All-Class Cosmetics
As stated above, earn the Professor Speks all-class cosmetic by gifting someone an Upgrade to Premium Gift. It cannot be painted or traded.
Earn the Ghastly Gibus all-class hat by earning a domination on a player wearing their own Gibus. There are multiple, slightly different versions (the Ghastly, Ghastlier, Ghastlierest, Ghostly, and Galvanized), and dominated any player except for the Galvanized will earn you your own Ghastly Gibus (the other versions were awarded earlier). You can earn this achievement at any time, and it can be worn at all times. It is paintable, but cannot be traded. (There are other cosmetics that must be earned during the annual Halloween or Winter Holiday events!)
You can also obain the Pyrovision Goggles by dominating a player that wears their own.
Earn a Mann Co. Cap all-class hat the first time you buy anything at the Mann Co. Store, regardless of amount spent. (You can only earn one.) It is paintable, but not tradable. You can also buy a real-life version from New Era. There is a second hat, the Mann Co. Online Cap, which you can earn by buying something from the Mann Co. Online store, which sells real-life Valve merchandise like posters, T-shirts, and hats!
Earn the all-class World Traveler’s Hat by buying your first Map Stamp, which is not an item, but a donation that goes directly to the author(s) of the Community-made map you choose. You can level it up by buying more Map Stamps.
Other cosmetics you can earn:
- Frontline Field Recorder: Upload a YouTube video from within TF2, and earn 1,000 lifetime views.
- Proof of Purchase: By being gifted the game, or buying TF2 yourself, like in the Orange Box from the Steam Store.
- Party Hat and TF Birthday Noisemaker: By playing the game on August 24th, TF2′s anniversary launch date.
- Spirit of Giving: By playing during the annual Winter Holiday. Rank it up by gifting, such as using a Secret Saxton tool.
- Horace: Be a RPS Supporter.
- Many, many cosmetics can be earned by buying certain games. Some were only available during pre-order, but many are still available if you buy the game today.
Earn Items by Playing the Game
Team Fortress 2 wants to reward you for playing, and does so by granting you periodic “item drops”. Approximately every hour you play in a week, up to perhaps 10 hours a week, you will earn a random item, usually a weapon but rarely (perhaps a 3% chance) a cosmetic item such as a hat. Most, but not all, craftable weapons can drop via this system, and if you don’t play much one week, that extends the playing time where you can earn items in the next week only. “Weeks” for this purpose begin on Wednesdays at 7 PM Eastern Standard Time (which is also Thursdays at midnight Greenwich Standard Time).
The list of possible weapons available is roughly the same as the craftable weapon list plus the achievement-reward weapon list (i.e. almost all non-stock weapons). “Stock” weapons are the three default weapons of each class, the only weapons computer-controller bots use, and the only weapons you can access in those rare, unfortunate times when your server loses connection to the item server :( Stock weapons never drop, and you can’t lose access to them by crafting or trading.
By a similar but separate system, crates (and rarely, other tool items such as Name Tags instead) can drop for you as well, and they are NOT limited by your weekly playing time. Of course, you need keys to open crates; they are basically opportunities for Valve to make money by selling you keys. Crates always provide a random item out of a list, and the series number relates to the list of items available to drop; most crates drop Strange-quality weapons (with a 1% chance for a random Unusual hat instead!).
Crate drops are rarer than in years past; players got annoyed by having too many crates. Sometimes, such as during the winter holiday, crate drops will occur more often.
Playing “Mann Up Mode” in Mann vs. Machine
Mann vs. Machine, or “MvM”, is a horde mode where you and five other players form a RED team that defends against an onslaught of class-specific BLU robots. The free-to-play “Boot Camp” mode does NOT earn you items, but is good for practicing the game. The real rewards can be gained by completing “Mann Up” missions, which require a brown Tour of Duty ticket that costs US$0.99 in the Mann Co. Store. Tickets are used up and rewards are earned only when you successfully win an entire mission.
- Each completed mission earns you an item drop, in exchange for your Tour of Duty ticket, if you did not previously have credit for that mission on your current Tour of missions.
- If playing the “Two Cities” Tour, you will earn some robot parts, and possibly even a Killstreak Kit Fabricator, after each mission.
- Each completed Tour of missions will earn you different rewards, on top of your usual mission rewards:
- “Two Cities” Tours reward Killstreak Kit, one or two higher-tier Killstreak Kit Fabricators, and possible some other rare loot as well!
- Other Tours reward one of several kinds of Botkiller weapons, depending on both random luck and which Tour had been completed.
For more information on MvM and the items you can earn by playing in “Mann Up” Mode, please refer to the TF2 Newbs’ Guide to MvM Item Hunting.
2. You Can Craft New Items
You can take undesired items and turn them into metal, which is used to craft other weapons.
two weapons of same class —> one scrap
three scrap <—> one reclaimed
three reclaimed <—> one refined
What Can You Do with Metal?
- Use as a trading currency (see Trading, below)
- Craft cosmetics, such as hats
- Craft weapons
Crafting Cosmetic Items
There are two ways to craft cosmetic items such as hats. Here is the first:
three refined —> one random cosmetic item
The above menu says the output is a “random headgear”, but in reality the output is some kind of cosmetic, such as a hat or an item that equips elsewhere on your person, and are never weapons. For instance, you might get a Football Helmet for a Heavy, or an Itsy-Bitsy Spyer that hangs on the hip of your Sniper, or a Big Mann on Campus sweater for a Scout. These items are always Unique quality; you’ll never get Stranges or the like. Almost every non-Limited cosmetic can be crafted, but of course, what you receive is randomized.
But if you specifically want an item that a specific character can use, consider the next formula:
four refined + class token —> random class-specific cosmetic item
With the above formula, you apply some extra metal and a token, but you ensure that you’ll get an item wearable by the token’s class (and possibly other classes also, depending on the item you receive). Use this formula if you really want more cosmetics for your favorite class.
See this page for a list of many other crafting recipes, which are also found in your Crafting menu.
There is a list of craftable weapons under the second tab, “Common Items”. Simply follow the recipe to craft a desired weapon. If you lack the items, you can’t make the item, but you may be able to trade someone for the parts you need (or just buy it from the Mann Co. Store instead).
The top recipe reads, “Fabricate Class Weapons” with the following recipe:
scrap + class token + slot token –> random matching weapon
The above formula will generate one random weapon out of the possible craftable weapons that match both the class and weapon slot of the tokens. For example, following this recipe with a Pyro token and a Secondary token can generate a flare gun, detonator, reserve shooter, manmelter, scorch shot, or panic attack. See the “Crafting Weapon Classifications” heading in the the TF2 Wiki Crafting page for the full list.
What Are Crates For?
Crates are opened with keys (usually Mann Co. Crate Keys, but special crates require special keys), and they can be purchased from the Mann Co. Store for US$2.49, traded, or bought and sold in the Steam Market. Opening a crate provides you one random item from its short drop list, but rarely (about a 1% chance) grant you an Unusual hat!
What Are Robot Parts For?
If you have robot parts in your possession, you have probably been playing some Mann vs. Machine “Two Cities” missions. These are used for crafting certain Killstreak Kits. See this MvM Item FAQ for more information.
3. You Can Buy Items
Access the Mann Co. Store within the TF2 game itself. You can’t while you’re playing in a server, however.
Items You Can Buy from the Mann Co. Store
You can buy virtually any Unique-quality item in the Mann Co. Store. Unique is the standard item quality that doesn’t do anything special, and signifies something that is probably not rare. Want a different kind of rocket launcher for your Soldier? It’s probably US$1 or less. Want a new community-designed hat? Snap one up for US$2 to $10. Just look at the Catalog of items in the in-game menu, and purchase with your Steam Wallet funds.
You can’t buy everything at the store, such as an Unusual hat… but there’s lots to buy on the Steam Market!
Items You Can Buy on the Steam Market
- You can’t buy most plain Unique-quality weapons in the Market, but you can buy Unique Tools such as crates, keys, robot parts, and killstreak kits.
- ANY Strange, Haunted, Vintage, Collector’s, or Unusual item can be bought and sold on the Steam Market.
- Unique items that are also Limited can also list on the Market. Limited items cannot be crafted, item dropped, or bought from the Mann Co. Store.
- Gun Mettle weapons can also be bought and sold in the Market, regardless of item quality, since they are Limited.
A Short Explanation of Item Qualities
“Limited” items can no longer be purchased or crafted. A limited item will say so in the item’s description heading in yellow text. This is one way that Valve is informing the community that the item is essentially “retired” so that the number of existing copies will not be increased in future. Such items are probably worth a little more than other items; beware of players who may try to trade you a limited item for items that are not limited (i.e. scrap, a single hat, or several weapons). Unless the item has no value to you at all, it is always worth asking a knowledgeable friend or checking a pricing site such as Backpack.TF.
Vintage items are functionally the same as Unique items in every way. Valve simply converted every item crafted before March 15, 2011 into a Vintage item. Buying vintage weapons or cosmetics on the Market is a cheaper alternative to the Mann Co. Store, and hey, it’s not yellow!
Strange items track kills on weapons, game points earned on cosmetics, and possibly other statistics if you attack a Strange Part tool item. Most Strange items enter the economy by opening a crate, or applying a specific Strangifier tool item in a few cases. Most Strange items sell on the Market for less than US$2, but a few rare ones (such as a Kritzkrieg) are worth much more. Always be informed of an item’s price on the Market or a popular trade site before completing a trade.
Haunted items are cosmetics that sometimes drop by completing certain achievement on Halloween-themed TF2 maps, or opening Halloween-themed crates or Cauldrons. These items are wearable only during Halloween/Full Moon mode (which some servers leave Always On), and many of them are Halloween Costume Sets. Many of these can be bought cheaply on the Market as well.
Genuine items are promotional items, usually earned by pre-purchasing another Steam game, or earning the item through another Steam game’s achievement. Other companies have used these to promote their new games, and are otherwise no different than their Unique counterparts, except that they existed first.
Collector’s items are crafted by combining a Collector’s Chemistry Set (a rarely-dropped tool item) with 200 of the same specific item! These are rare.
Unusual cosmetics, taunts, and Gun Mettle weapons are always rare and valuable, almost never selling for less than US$20. They are rarely obtained from crates, and always have an Unusual Effect that further animates the item. Certain Unusual Effects can increase an item’s demand.
4. You Can Ask Others to Trade or Give You Items
Yes, there are gifters who play TF2 regularly. Very few players just go around looking for newbs who need items. But there are plenty of players wiling to give a couple of weapons or an odd hat to someone who has none. The important thing is to be nice and civil. Spamming chat with demands for free items will annoy anyone who would have been willing, and that behavior can get you banned from the Newbs servers.
If you want people to trade or gift you, show some proper etiquette:
- Be gracious and don’t make demands. Don’t spam the text chat or the voice chat.
- Many players are willing to trade away a spare copy of a weapon (not cosmetics) for a single scrap metal, or its equal value of any two weapons. Likewise, if you happen to have extra copies of an item, you can offer to trade two of them to someone for one weapon you need.
- If there is an item you want to trade for, or to ask for free, you should ask people in chat if they have specific items you’re looking for. But don’t spam the chat with constant messages.
- Look at your friends’ profiles, and click on Inventory to see their TF2 items. Unless their profiles are private, you can find out what spare items a friend has, which can help you make them a trade or gift offer.
- When you really want to trade items, go to a trade server, such as Newbs #2 and #18 Trade Servers. You won’t be interrupting anyone’s game with trade offers or chatter, and you’ll meet up with others actively looking to trade.
Trading Items for Items
Trades do not involve the exchange of Steam Wallet funds (that’s what the Steam Market is for). So how do you trade items for other items and know one of you isn’t being cheated out of value? Over the years, players have established a de facto economy by using certain common and uncommon items as currencies, specifically metal, keys, and earbuds.
Metal is the crafting ingredient discussed above to create random cosmetics and weapons. Because of these uses, metal also has worth in the economy.
Common item prices are discussed in “ref”, an abbreviation for refined metal. A refined metal is 1.00 ref.
A reclaimed metal is .33 ref, since it takes three reclaimed to make a refined.
A scrap metal is worth .11 ref, since it takes three scrap to make a reclamied (nine to make a refined).
For example: A hat worth 1.33 ref is worth a refined and three reclaimed.
If you play TF2 10 hours a week and smelt all of your non-cosmetic drops into metal, you’ll average one refined metal in three weeks.
Keys, or standard Mann Co. Crate Keys, cost US$2.49 in the Mann Co. Store. Since they’re tradable (after a week) and the price doesn’t change, they are good for trading valuable items. Popular, in-demand items that are not very rare are often measured in keys, such as taunts or popular hats.
How much ref a key is worth changes based on the demand in the economy (how bad people want keys, or metal). Refined metal is also useful for making “change”, since a key cannot be broken into smaller values. As of this post, a key is worth about 16 ref.
Buds, or Earbuds, are a somewhat rare, Limited cosmetic item. Buds are often used as currency for rare, high-demand items, such as Unusuals
Buds can change in value over time as well. As of this post, a buds is worth about four keys.
5. Where Can I Get Free Unusual Hats?
The following is a list of phrases people enter into their search engines:
how to get easy hats in tf2
tf2 free hats
tf2 easy unusuals
tf2 item giveaway
tf2 free keys
free tf2 unusuals
…and so on. I know this because the blog dashboard shows me certain search engine terms that bring readers to this blog. Lots and lots of TF2 players want free unusual hats, keys and items. New players beg for free items, and sometimes start raging when they don’t get what they want.
The TF2Newbs community, like many other public gaming communities out there, frown on begging. Repeatedly asking for items disrupts the game and can lead to a permanent ban on Newbs servers. Would you want your games interrupted by beggars?
My point is, earn or buy items yourself. Trading exists so that you can meet other players and swap items. It’s a metagame–a game within a game–to collect desirable items. Don’t disrupt a good game by begging; go to a trade server if you’re looking for something specific.
TF2Newbs’ Trade Servers (type these into your console to jump right in):
6. Too Many Items?
Well, that’s embarrassing: it is certainly possible to fill your backpack with so many crates, weapons, tools, and cosmetics that you cannot hold more. When this happens, you won’t receive more items from the item drop system; it “stops the clock”, so to speak. What do?
- Delete worthless items: crates and untradable duplicate items are the only ones I would advise deleting. You’re not likely to sell them on the Market or trade them for any value. (The only crates that have a value are crates numbered in the 20s–because each class has one that only carries items for that class–and crates #30, #40, #50 and #60, which are rare and may drop high-demand strange weapons.)
- Condense your metal: 18 weapons <-> 9 scrap metal <-> 3 reclaimed metal <-> 1 refined metal. Refined metal can “carry more value” in a smaller space, and is faster if you want to trade for a valuable item. Condense your space further by trading for keys or more valuable items.
- Buy a Backpack Expander, or several, from the Mann Co. Store (US$0.99) or the Steam Market. Each one gives you 100 slots (two pages) more, up to a maximum of 2000 slots or forty pages. This is very necessary if you’re collecting robot parts from “Two Cities” MvM Tours, or trying to get one copy of every weapon.
- Put items up for sale on the Steam Market. While on the Market, the item is removed from your inventory, so you can fill those slots once more. You can remove the item from the Market if it doesn’t sell, and then you will receive the item once more.
- Check the Crafting List and see if there are any desirable weapons or cosmetic items you can craft. For example, if you don’t have a B.A.S.E. Jumper parachute for your Soldier, you can craft one at the cost of a Sticky Jumper, a Buff Banner, and a reclaimed metal.
7. Other Useful Links You Should Bookmark in Your Browser:
- The Official TF2 Wiki’s Item page.
- The background story for TF2 is told by a series of comic books.
- Improve your play by reading strategies when playing specific maps, game modes, and characters.
- Sites for trading and pricing:
I hope this blogpost has helped you learn about the wide variety, and multiple functions, of the items of Team Fortress 2. The item-acquisition game within the “war-themed hat simulator” keeps players coming back. If I have helped you in your quest for mighty loot, feel free to say so in the comments, or post in the forums.