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Why Do Archers Wear Arm Guards: Do You Need To Wear One?

I have been practicing archery for a while now, and one thing I’ve picked up on pretty quickly is archery safety and protective gear. Archery can be made a lot more enjoyable by protecting yourself as you learn the sport.

Why do archers wear arm guards? An arm guard, also referred to as a bracer, helps protect the inside of the archers forearm. The arm guard will hold loose clothing out of the way of the bow string and also prevent the arrow fletching and bow string from hitting the archers forearm, also know as bow string slap.

The type of bow you’re using and your experience level will determine if you need to be wearing an arm guard or not. For most archers I would recommend wearing one, but there are some cases where it isn’t entirely necessary.

Why Archers Wear Arm Guards

For the most part, archers wear arm guards because it’s a personal preference they have to protect themselves from the bow string when firing the bow. Also, an arm guard will help hold loose clothing out of the way of the bow string which could have otherwise thrown off the shot.

Some archery ranges require that you wear an arm guard to use their facilities. You can’t really blame them for doing this, most acute archery related injuries are to an archers forearm caused by the bow string. This abstract by The Journal Of Sports Medicine states:

The data suggest that nearly all acute injuries in target archery can be prevented through participation in an accredited training program and the use of basic protective gear (arm guards and shooting gloves).

Palsbo SE. Epidemiology of recreational archery injuries: implications for archery ranges and injury prevention. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2012 Jun;52(3) 293-299. PMID: 22648468.

I don’t know about you, but that’s a good enough reason for me to wear an arm guard when practicing archery. Of course, a lot of the serious injuries were probably from people using stronger bows like hunting bows, but even the weaker youth bows can sting if the string hits your arm.

Most arm guards are made out of leather, plastic, or thick cloth material to protect your arm. Let’s look at the benefits of an arm guard in more detail and then talk about whether or not you will need one for the type of archery you’re doing.

Protect Your Inner Forearm

If you’ve ever seen a bad bow string slap injury, it would be enough to convince you to wear an arm guard. With the stronger bows, the string is released with enough force to break the skin if it hits your arm. Best case scenario you will get a sting, worse case scenario, you will need a hospital visit.

There are other ways to protect your arm. An arm guard is the easiest way to go, but I’ve seen people just tape a piece plastic to their arm for the day. This is mostly resorted to when an archer forgets their arm guard, but definitely a good way to protect yourself. Consider using rubber bands to hold a couple sticks to the inside of your forearm if you have nothing else available.

Keep Clothing Out Of The Way

Another very helpful use of an arm guard is to keep clothing out of the way of your shot. If you live in an area wear you’ll be wearing long sleeve shirts or jackets a lot of the time. An arm guard will help with more than just protecting your arm. Any loose or baggy clothing could get in the way of the string, causing your shot to miss the target.

Many people think that wearing a thick jacket eliminates the need to wear an arm guard, but then have issues with the arrows fletching or bow string hitting their clothing and affecting their shot. Even with an arm guard, some clothing will just be too loose to shoot with.

I suggest having a tighter fitting jacket, if you live in the colder areas, that you can always use to practice archery in. Also consider using straps of Velcro or something else to keep your clothing fitting tight to the arm you hold your bow with. A lot of jackets that have long sleeves, will bunch up causing issues with the bow string.

Is An Arm Guard Necessary For Archery?

Each bow has a set draw weight which determines how much force is needed to pull the string back to fire an arrow. The stronger bows like hunting bows can have draw weights as high as 60 lbs. Typically, the higher draw weight means the string is under more pressure and is released with more force when firing an arrow.

So, is an arm guard necessary for archery? No, you can practice archery without an arm guard. But wearing an arm guard is highly recommended by many safety organizations, and some archery ranges will require that you wear one to use their range.

When You Should Use An Arm Guard:

  • You’re a beginner or intermediate level archer
  • You’re somewhere that requires arm guards be worn
  • You’re under 16 years old
  • You’re using a bow with a draw weight above 18 pounds

If you’re an adult using a low draw weight bow, around 10-18 pounds, or a youth bow, the risk is greatly reduced. You probably won’t sustain any serious injuries if you’re using a light bow and have good form. So there are cases where it’s not the end of the world if you go without an arm guard. But I’d still recommend wearing one to form a good habit.

When You Can Go Without An Arm Guard:

  • You’re an advanced level archer with perfect form
  • You’re using a youth bow with a draw weight below 16 pounds
  • You’re wearing a thick, tight fitting, long sleeve jacket
  • You’re using something else to protect your arm

Some archers will tell you they never use an arm guard and that they’re not necessary if you have good form. That may be true, if you have perfect form every shot you take, you will rarely hit your arm with the string. But after a couple hours of shooting, you’re not always going to have that same perfect for you started with. Fatigue sets in, and I’d rather just wear one to make sure I’m covered in the off chance I get a bow string slap.

I would still recommend kids wear an arm guard, even if they are using a youth bow. The string will still hurt if it hits their arm, and that could effect their interest in archery, and make them scared to use a bow again. Make it part of your kids routine when you go out to practice archery. Inspect your equipment for damage before using it, and put on the proper safety gear.

Here are the safety rules we follow in this article, Archery Safety Guide, it includes a print out of some safety rules you can post in the area you’ll be practicing archery.

What If You Don’t Have An Arm Guard

If you need an arm guard, I recommend just buying one, they’re typically pretty cheap and easy to find. Here is my Favorite Arm Guard to use, that should give you a good idea of what a decent price, good quality arm guard looks like. For around 10 bucks, I find it best to just buy one.

Some people will have a hard time finding a good arm guard that fits, or just like to have custom gear. For those people, making an arm guard yourself is the most popular option. I have created a step by step article about How To Make An Archery Arm Guard yourself that includes a handy template to get you started. Then your can customize it with engravings to make it your own.

Does Good Form Eliminate The Need For An Arm Guard?

Even the best of the best archers in the world wear arm guards when target practicing. Just watch any archery competition and you’ll see the archers wearing them. Even the experts know that you won’t always have the most perfect form every time you shoot a bow. Weather, fatigue, wind, and range conditions are all out of our control and have an affect on every shot.

I will say, some archers don’t wear arm guards, and do fine without them. I’m not one of those people, and I wouldn’t suggest that good form will eliminate your need to wear an arm guard. There are just too many other factors at play here, and stuff happens, why risk it.

How To Wear An Archery Arm Guard

How you actually attach the arm guard to your arm will differ depending on the type of arm guard you have. But all arm guards are meant to be positioned on your inner forearm on the arm you use to hold your bow. You will notice it’s the section of arm closest to the bow string when you draw your bow to fire an arrow.

A popular arm guard securing method is to use string or laces you would tie on your arm like shoelaces through a shoe. Another popular securing method arm guards have is Velcro straps that wrap around your arm and attach from one side of the arm guard to the other. The securing method used in my Make Your Own Arm Guard article involves bungee cord and lace hooks for quickly putting on and removing the arm guard.

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