An important factor to consider when looking at arrows is the material they are made from because each will determine how the arrow performs.
Two of the most common materials used are carbon and aluminum and they are varying characteristics that need to be considered.
Carbon arrows, or often referred to as carbon fiber arrows, are by far the most popular arrow material used by archers, especially bow hunters.
Their light weight, strength, and durability are the main characteristics for their popularity. A lighter arrow flies faster and keeps a tighter trajectory, while the strength allows for good penetration on an animal, and it is these types of factors that every bow hunter wants in an arrow.
There are a few manufacturers offering a carbon/aluminum hybrid, in an attempt to combine the positive features of both materials. These shafts are effectively aluminum tubes wrapped in carbon; hence they should not be considered true carbon arrows.
When it comes to costing the carbon, arrows do come in higher price than aluminum arrows, however, their performance and qualities certainly justifies that price tag.
Carbon arrows are categorized and labeled according to their spine deflection ratings. These categories range from 260 to 500, with the higher number indicating a lighter and more flexible spine as opposed to a low number highlighting the spine is stiffer and heavier.
It is important to select the correct carbon spine specifically to what you are wanting to use it for, whether that be hunting, 3D shooting or competitive paper target shooting.
Pros of Carbon arrows
- Reduction in wind drift
Carbon arrows have a good reputation at performing under adverse weather conditions and are less affected by the wind when compared to the aluminum arrows, the difference is slight but regardless it is still there.
- Strong and durable
The carbon material is well known for its strength. The durability of carbon makes it especially attractive to bow hunters.
- Tight trajectory
The lighter arrow spine means a better trajectory and tighter grouping, which every type of archer is truly looking for.
- Technological advancements
Developments and improvements on archery equipment are constantly happening and a lot of focus has been given to the carbon arrows to make them perform even better. A prime example of this is the Full Metal Jacket (FMJ) arrows.
- Greater choice of accessories
The choice of accessories such as fletchers, inserts, designs, nocks etc… are almost endless when it comes to carbon arrows.
Cons of Carbon arrows
- Higher price
The pros of carbon arrows all come at a price and with that the carbon arrows are generally more expensive than aluminum arrows.
- Shatter and crack
Unlike the aluminum arrows that are inclined to bend under pressure, the makeup and rigidness of a carbon means that is likely to crack or shatter before bending. Small cracks in the spine may go unnoticed and will affect the overall flight of the arrow.
For many years the aluminum arrow was the go-to material for building arrows. They were used across a wide variety of archery disciplines, from target competitions to hunting.
Aluminum arrows are well known for their accuracy and if one were to do a comparison of precision to price between aluminum arrows and carbon arrows, then aluminum would come out tops.
That precision does come with a slight draw back though as they tend to be heavier than the carbon arrows and overall working out to be heavier in grains per inch than any other arrow material.
Archers wanting lighter aluminum arrows but also looking to maintain the precision offered would have to opt for a thinner diameter spine.
The thinner walling of the spine ultimately means a reduction in the strength and stability of the arrow. This is of particular concern to bow hunters as it would affect the overall kinetic energy of the arrow and its penetrating ability.
The sizing of aluminum arrows is a lot more specific than carbon arrows and allows the archer to design an arrow specific to their requirements.
The size is given in four numbers, for example, 1716, 1816, 1916, and so on. The first two numbers indicate the diameter of the arrow by 64ths of an inch. Hence a 1916 arrow is 19/64ths of an inch in diameter. Sizes can range from 1214 up to 2712.
The second two numbers represent the diameter of the actual walls of the arrow by 1000ths of an inch. So, the same 1916 arrow, has a wall diameter of 16/1000ths of an inch.
Target archers may opt for an arrow with a greater diameter because it covers slightly more of the target, yet a hunter will want a slightly smaller diameter to reduce the wind drift effect.
With regards to the arrow walls, it is more of an indication of how rigid and flexible the arrow spine is. Thicker walled arrows are a better match for higher poundage bows and create slightly better impact and durability in outdoor conditions.
Pros of Aluminum arrows
- Lower Cost
With the ever-increasing price of archery equipment, cost has now become a factor that cannot be ignored. For those competitive target shooters that have a variety of arrow spines and weights, the costs begin to add up quickly.
- Precise spine specifications
The ability to customize the arrow makes it favorable amongst competition shooters.
Unlike the carbon arrows that are prone to shattering, a slight bend in the aluminum arrow can be rectified easily.
Cons of Aluminum arrows
- Weight vs trajectory
The weight of an aluminum arrow when compared to a carbon one has always been an issue. A heavier arrow means a sharper trajectory.
- Strength & Durability
This is not to say aluminum arrows are weak, it is a comparison against the carbon arrows.
- Lack of accessories
With the industry and the majority of archers leaning more toward the carbon arrows, the availability and variety in added accessories for aluminum arrows seem to be on the decline.
One would be hard pressed to pry a carbon arrow from the hands of a dedicated bow hunter and replace it with an aluminum arrow. Any bow hunter would happily pay a little more for a carbon arrow knowing full well it would better serve them out in the field.
That is not to say that aluminum arrows no longer have a place in archery, quite the opposite.
Aluminum arrows serve a great purpose in bringing people into the sport without breaking their budget, providing options for the fanatics that are obsessed with ensuring every detail of their arrow is specific to their needs and being there for the traditionalists that used aluminum arrows for years, successfully taken numerous animals and have no intentions of shooting anything else but aluminum shafted arrows.