Whether you are a recreational archer or a seasoned veteran, choosing the right arrows is extremely important. No matter how practiced you are with a bow in your hand, your accuracy will never be everything it could be without the correct arrow choice. However, finding the perfect arrow can be extremely difficult, even for those who have extensive archery experience. So what should you know?
Choosing the right arrows will involve taking a close look at the arrows’ dimensions and fabrication materials. From there, you can decide which specifications you find the most valuable and make the best selection based on the type of archer you are.
Even with a clear idea of what you are looking for in an arrow, it will likely take some trial and error of actually taking some shots before you know what is best for you.
From there, you will be able to figure out what minor adjustments in specification can yield the desired result and create a quiver that has you set to shoot in a wide array of conditions!
How to Choose Arrows Based on Dimensions
Your search for the best arrows begins with the arrow dimensions themselves. Not only will the dimensions play a significant role in determining how the arrow flies, but they can also influence your technique as an archer.
Length, diameter, weight, spine, straightness, and tip are some of the most important factors you should look at when choosing arrows.
Even to the layperson, the length is likely the first thing that pops into your head when thinking about arrow dimensions. But how are you supposed to know which measurement is right for you?
The first rule of thumb is to always use an arrow that is longer than your draw length. The draw length is the distance at full draw from the nocking point on the string to the throat of the grip (the deepest part of the grip) plus another 1.75 inches. To find the ideal arrows for you, it is best to get your draw length taken by a professional archery technician.
However, if you do not have access to an archery technician, your draw length can be estimated by holding your arms straight out to your sides with your palms facing out to form a “T” against your body. Then, have a friend measure your wingspan from the tip of your middle fingers. Finally, divide this figure by 2.5 to get a rough idea of our draw length.
Why is Draw Length Important?
It is important to select arrows that are longer than your draw length because arrows that are too short can fall off the arrow shelf and cause potential damage to your hand.
However, the main consideration for arrow length is safety. Too short arrows will fall off the arrow rest, and with your bow at full draw, this is extremely dangerous. Arrows that are too long will fly awkwardly, but it is better to be on the safe side, to begin with. Most arrows will be between 23 and 32 inches in length, depending on the archer’s size.
It is best for beginners to choose arrows that are at least two inches longer than your personal draw length.
As you become more advanced, this figure can go down a bit, with intermediate archers capable of using arrows one inch longer than their draw length and professionals using arrows just a touch longer than their personal draw length itself.
Here’s a quick video explaining the importance of draw length:
While not as important in terms of safety, the diameter is still critical for choosing the right arrow.
Indoor target archers generally prefer arrows with a thicker diameter because the added thickness is likely to contrast with the target lines and yield a higher score.
However, most target competitions have rules about permissible arrow diameter, so ensure that you do not go so thick that you get yourself disqualified from the competition.
Outdoor archers—both hunters and target archers—usually prefer thinner arrows. Thinner arrows have less surface area that can be caught by the wind. They also allow the arrow to penetrate wild game more deeply.
A typical arrow diameter will be about 19/64th of an inch across.
Although an arrow’s weight is important, it can be a bit baffling for a beginner to understand how an arrow’s weight is measured. Typically, arrows are weighted in units known as grains per inch (GPI). The factors that determine an arrow’s GPI include:
- The diameter of the arrow
- The thickness of the walls of an arrow
- The type of material used to make the arrow, such as wood, aluminum, or carbon
For lighter bows, you will want to choose arrows with lower GPIs, and for heavier bows, you will want to use arrows with more GPIs.
Hunters generally like heavier arrows because the added weight equates to more energy. This increased energy gives the arrow a greater likelihood of penetrating wild game.
However, the increased weight comes at the sacrifice of lower speeds, so a balancing act needs to be performed to find the ideal combination.
Beginners should practice using arrows of the same weight. Once you have gained some experience, you can experiment with arrows of different weights.
The difference will be noticeable, affecting everything from the drawback to the flight. However, you will be able to feel for yourself which weight you are most comfortable with.
Although it seems counterintuitive, for an arrow to fly straight, it must wiggle. This wiggle helps the arrow bend around the bow and go on a direct path to the target. This wiggle is known as the “spine.”
Arrows with little spine are referred to as weak, and arrows with a lot of spine are considered stiff. It is essential to find the perfect balance between the two, as you do not want a weak arrow that is wiggling all the way to the target, while an arrow with too much spine may tend to fly sideways and end up way off target.
When choosing the correct amount of spine, there are several important points to take into consideration:
- Bow weight: If a bow has a very high draw weight, you will want to use an arrow with more spine, while bows with lower draw weights can utilize weaker arrows.
- Arrow length: Longer arrows need to have more spine than shorter arrows.
- Weight of the arrowhead: Heavier arrow points can cause unwanted bend. As such, the heavier the point, the more spine the arrow needs to have.
Once you have identified the amount of spine that is best for you, it is essential that all the arrows in your quiver have the same amount of spine. Even for professional archers, differing wiggle from one arrow to the next will harm accuracy.
In general, it is better to choose an arrow that is a little on the stiff side as opposed to the weak side. Just remember that stiffer arrows tend to fly a little left, while weak arrows will usually fly a little right, and that arrows will become weaker over time.
Here’s a quick overview video on arrow spine:
It is best to use as straight an arrow as possible. Although straighter arrows are more expensive, they will be an important factor in ensuring that you make accurate shots.
Straightness is measured in terms of “straightness tolerance,” with an arrow with a tolerance of +/-.001 inch being straighter than an arrow with a tolerance of +/-.003 inch.
Although straightness is important, it is not as critical as factors such as length and spine.
Even arrows with higher tolerances are still extremely straight, so if it comes down to choosing between straightness and one of the more vital dimensions on this list, you can feel okay about buying an arrow with more tolerance.
Tip is the final important dimension to consider when choosing an arrow. As mentioned, tip weight can influence an arrow’s spine, so using an arrowhead that is too heavy can make your arrow wiggle more.
For the most part, heavier bow weight can be used with a heavier arrowhead and vice versa.
In general, hunters will likely prefer a heavier tip than archers, as the increased weight can lead to deeper penetration.
How to Choose Arrows Based on Material
While the arrow’s dimensions are vital in choosing the right arrows for your quiver, the fabrication material should not be overlooked. Arrow performance will differ significantly based on what the arrow is made out of.
There are four main types of materials from which arrows are made: wood, aluminum, carbon, and an aluminum/carbon mix.
This is the granddaddy of them all, the original material from which arrows were fabricated. Going back to the days when indigenous people worldwide used bow and arrow to fell wild game, wood has played an essential role in archery lore.
While wooden arrows are the most affordable and definitely give an organic feel to the whole archery experience, they do have their downsides. Among the drawbacks of using wooden arrows include:
- Greater inconsistency between one arrow and the next
- Wooden arrows wear out faster than arrows made of other materials
- They are susceptible to warping and splintering
Wooden arrows are rarely used in modern archery competitions. However, they remain popular with hobbyists and users of longbows and are fun to make for the DIY archer.
Aluminum arrows are an excellent choice for beginners and veteran archers alike. While more expensive than wooden arrows, they are more affordable than carbon options. They come in many different sizes and are used for both hunting and archery competitions.
Aluminum arrows typically come with screw-in tips, meaning that you can easily switch between different styles and sizes of arrowheads.
As a sturdier option than carbon and wooden arrows, aluminum is an excellent choice for target archery, where shooting into small groups can cause the arrows to knock against each other and cause damage in weaker varieties.
If you use a heavy bow, carbon arrows may be the choice for you, as their stiff fabrication plays well with the heavier bow type.
Carbon is a solid choice for hunters, as carbon arrows can be manufactured very thin, allowing the arrow to cut through the wind, fly straight, and penetrate wild game deeply.
An expensive option, carbon arrows will splinter on occasion, making for a tough pill to swallow when the arrow needs to be tossed.
These arrows typically have an aluminum center surrounded by carbon. This hybrid arrow has all the same advantages of a carbon arrow and is an excellent choice for shooting at targets that are outdoors and far away.
Light and stiff with excellent wind performance, the carbon/aluminum blend is generally thought of as the best arrow option and is the preferred arrow of competitive and Olympic archers. As such, these hybrid arrows come with a steep price tag.
Here’s a video comparing cheap vs expensive arrows:
How to Choose the Right Arrow for You
Now that you understand the critical dimensions and various manufacturing materials of different arrows, you should have a good idea of how to choose the right arrow. However, it may be difficult trying to put all of these considerations together and make a sensible selection.
If you are still stuck trying to figure out how to pull the trigger on the right arrow, there are several different approaches you could take.
Use an Arrow Chart
Most arrow manufacturers will have an arrow chart on their website. If you know what type of bow you are using, your draw length, and the size of the arrow you are looking for, the arrow chart will make a recommendation on the type of spine you should consider.
While the arrow chart is a useful tool, there are several downsides:
- Not all manufacturers have an arrow chart listed, making it frustrating to look for a specific brand.
- Arrow charts often differ between manufacturers, making it difficult if you are thinking about trying a different brand but want to keep consistency in your specifications.
- Some arrow charts can get overly complicated to read, making them of little utility to the novice archer.
Shop at an Online Retailer
Sometimes it is easier to buy from one of the many online arrow retailers available than it is to buy directly from the manufacturer. Online retail sites often have customer reviews more accessible, making it easier for you to compare popular products.
When trying to find the ideal arrow, most online retailers have customer support professionals who can help answer your questions and lead you down the right path toward your purchase.
Go to an Archery Pro Shop
If you are completely new to purchasing arrows, navigating arrow charts and online resources may be a bit intimidating. If this is the case, it may be worth your time to find an archery pro and have an in-person visit as you aim to get your quiver filled for the first time.
Most pros have likely answered the same questions you have hundreds of times and will be able to make recommendations that can help you confidently make the right decision.
Final Tips for Choosing the Right Arrows
All of this information may seem overly confusing, and even to experienced archers, arrow selection is no easy task. Although there are numerous considerations for finding the ideal arrow, it is important to remember that archery should start as a fun pastime. As you get better with the bow and arrow, you will naturally get better at making an arrow selection.
The following tips can help you keep the arrow-choosing process less intimidating:
- Start with cheap arrows. Going with inexpensive, wooden arrows early on is advisable. While these arrows will not last as long, it will ensure that you are not breaking the bank should any initial frustrations occur.
- Go with premade options in the beginning. Many high-end arrows come shaft only, giving the archer the freedom to add a tip, nock, and vanes at their discretion. While this can be an excellent option for experienced archers looking for the most minute accuracy, it may make things overly complicated for the beginner. Early on, you will likely be more satisfied with arrows that come with shaft, nock, tip, and vanes already fabricated.
- Use feather vanes for indoor shooting. Vanes will come with either feather or plastic options.
- Feather vanes are especially good for beginners shooting indoors, as they can gracefully flatten when brought in contact with the bow. They also fly straight in the absence of wind.
- Plastic vanes are sturdier and better for hunting and outdoor competitions, but they are less forgiving if accidentally brought in contact with the bow, which can make beginners’ shots fly off the mark.
- Choose a vane to match the arrow. Vanes are meant to stabilize the flight of an arrow. As such, a light vane may not be able to perform its job with a heavy shaft and tip. If you add a heavier tip, make sure the vane is sturdier, as well.