How to Choose Arrows

Finding new arrows can feel like an overwhelming challenge with so many different options available to traditional archers. Depending upon your needs there are a few ways to narrow down your arrow options. The basic steps for choosing an arrow are:

  1. Choose your arrow material. Arrow material includes Wood, Carbon, Aluminum, or Fiberglass. Each has different benefits and drawbacks discussed below.
  2. Choose arrow spine and arrow length. Arrow spine and arrow length will depend on the bow from which the arrow is being shot. You will also need to determine your draw length and the pull weight of your bow at your draw length, not what is marked on the side of the bow as your draw length may be different. Then with the use of an arrow selection chart (see spine chart here), or an arrow test kit (see all our test kits here) find the proper spine and arrow length for your bow.
  3. Choose your desired shaft pattern. The most common carbon arrow shaft patterns are black, camo, and wood grain. Aluminum arrow shafts have the same choices for the most part. For wood arrow shafts have many different stain colors and accent colors like a crown dip and/or cresting.

3Rivers Wood Hunter Arrows

Choosing Wood Arrows

What makes each arrow material different? When you think traditional archery I’m sure wood arrows come to mind. They are one of the least expensive options, yet require constant maintenance to keep them in shooting condition. Often you must straighten the shafts due to improper care, or due to glancing shots when a target is missed or the arrow is shot into the ground.

Wood arrows fly  quieter than hollow carbon and aluminum arrows, as wood arrows are constructed from of a solid material. Weight can vary depending upon the type of wood the shaft is from. Port Orford Cedar (abbreviated as POC) is the most popular wood arrow material. Light-to-Medium weight, they balance speed with knockdown power. Laminated Birch, Douglas Fir, Sitka Spruce, Bamboo, and Lodgepole Pine are some examples of other wood shafting  that offer varying characteristics, weights, and looks when stained and sealed.

Most wood arrows come in diameters of 5/16″, 11/32″, and 23/64″. Be sure to use a test kit or at least use a spine chart when choosing spine. Wood arrows and shafts come in 5# spine groups as they can be a bit more ‘touchy’ on getting the right spine.

Easton Axis Traditional Carbon Arrows

Choosing Carbon Arrows

Tired of dealing with broken wood arrows? Carbon is a great solution, as they are straighter and more durable than wood. There is no need to be concerned with straightening shafts; just check for cracks. Carbon arrows are easily customized using different arrow nocks, inserts, adapters, and weight systems. The carbon composite is very tough and known to take some abuse that would break other materials. Be sure to watch for cracks around the ends, since when a carbon arrow does break it usually shatters, which can be dangerous.

The standard grain weight on carbons is normally lighter than wood. However, if you are looking for deeper penetration, there is a selection of heavier carbon shafts on the market. Also, by using weight tubes you can bump up the weight, turning a target arrow into a heavy-hitting hunting arrow without affecting the static spine of the arrow spine.

Tuning an arrow to a bow is also much easier with a carbon arrow, as you can easily adjust point weight with different points and inserts (such as Brass Inserts) and different arrow nocks to balance out point weight.

Cutting a carbon arrow requires the right tools, as not any saw blade will work. An abrasive wheeled cut-off saw is an easy and accurate tool for the job.

Consistency and tight tolerances are a big advantage to using carbon. Once you find the proper set up of spine, length, and weight it is easier to match this when buying carbon arrows in the future. Most carbons only have a few spine options, as carbon arrows have faster in-flight recovery thus making them more forgiving with spine.

Diameters for carbon are most commonly 5/16″, but many options are now available in larger and smaller diameters. The smaller diameters are rapidly growing in popularity as they have less wind drag and deeper penetration compared to arrows of the same weight. Many shafts are offered in a test kit of “bare shafts,” (or shafts without fletching), allowing the archer to bare-shaft tune to see exactly how the arrow responds to the shooter without the aid of feathers to correct the shaft in flight.

Easton Tribute Alumium Arrows

Aluminum Arrows

Aluminum shafting has been around for decades. Heavier than most wood and carbon shafting, aluminum arrows offer great penetration, an affordable cost, and have tight tolerances that produce a dependable performance time and time again. Though the selection of different aluminum shafts is small, they are tried and true.

Offered in more spine groups than carbon arrows, aluminum arrows have more fine tuning options for the perfect arrow flight. Many offer nock bushings to allowing for the use of press in nocks for improved accuracy. Aluminum arrows are very tough, but will bend from hard impacts or glancing hits. Bent arrow shafts can be straightened if the bend is not too severe, but in some cases a bent shaft can’t be salvaged.

Very cost effective for those on a budget. Diameters vary from spine to spine, typically offered in 11/32″, 21/64″, 5/16″, and 9/32″.

3Rivers Youth Fiberglass Arrows

Fiberglass Arrows

Though not very common on the target range or in the woods, fiberglass can be a great shaft for bowfishing or youth archery. The big reason is they are extremely strong. The price can be more affordable and the weight is the heaviest of all arrow shafting options. For young archers the advantage is the durability. Other than loosing them, your young archers will be hard pressed to break a fiberglass arrow under normal shooting conditions and bow weights.

Most common sizes are 5/16″ (bowfishing shafts) or 1/4″ (youth arrows).

What Are Your Shooting Needs?

Are you planning on target shooting? Maybe your goal is to be a bowhunter? The answers to these questions can be a big influence on which material you should use.

As a target shooter you may shoot longer distances, which means you’ll want a lighter arrow with a flatter trajectory than a heavy arrow.

Bowhunters should use a heavier weight arrow, as the more weight you put behind your broadhead, the deeper the penetration. Finding the perfect balance can take time, but it will be worth the success.

It is normally recommended for a traditional bowhunter to have 8 to 10 grains for every pound of pull weight. Example: A 50# bow (at your draw) should be close to a 500 grains (including point and fletchings) arrow. You can check with your bow manufacturer to see how light you can go, but if you can’t find the information from them, then it is best to go no less than seven (7) grains per pound (a 50# bow would be 350 grains).

Another issue to consider is shaft diameter. The smaller diameter was developed for better penetration on game and less wind drift on longer shots. Certain spines and sizes may only be available in specific diameters such as wood and aluminum shafts. Make sure to size field points and broadheads to the shaft. In some cases the heads can be slightly larger than the diameter of the shaft but they should never be under-sized, as smaller heads will decrease penetration, slightly diminish accuracy, or even damage the shaft in a target.

Finding the Right Spine and Arrow Length

Nothing can have a bigger impact on your shooting accuracy than the arrow spine. Spine (not spline) is the static measurement of deflection of a shaft. Basically, it is how much the shaft bends. Shafts that bend more have a higher deflection and are better for lower weight bows, and “stiffer” spines are better for heavy weight bows. Be sure to use a test kit or at least a spine selection chart when choosing your arrow spine.

Test kits are the best option, as an archer’s shooting style and bow may respond differently than what a chart would say. Actually shooting arrows and tuning them is the best method for pairing the correct spine with your bow and you.

When selecting the correct arrow length it is recommended you have an arrow at least one (1) inch longer than your draw length. The reason for this is that as the point is always in front of the bow, you don’t want it to get caught up on the shelf or inadvertently draw a sharp broadhead onto your hand. Use the arrow length as a tuning feature also. The longer an arrow is, the weaker the spine will be. Arrows can be tuned by starting with a full length arrow and incrementally cutting a 1/4″ to a 1/2″ at a time off until the arrow flight is perfected.

What is Your Style of Arrow?

Cost may be the biggest factor when it comes to the look of an arrow. Wood arrows can be stained before being sealed. Fiberglass is limited mostly to solid colors (like black). Carbon and Aluminum arrows have the most options and always seem to be changing from year to year. The least expensive is normally a black matte finish. Growing in popularity on the market are finishes in different camouflages, wood grain patterns, carbon weave, and a mix of any of the above. If you are willing to pay a little more for a look to fit your style, you should have no problems finding the right shaft for you.


In conclusion, choosing the right arrows can make a big difference in your shooting. Be sure to take the time to find the right arrow for your needs.

If you have questions or need advice, please call the 3Rivers Archery tech crew. The Longbow and Recurve Experts are happy to help. You can reach them on the phone at 866-RECURVE (732-8783) or online at