Types of Crossbow Bolts

Types of Crossbow Bolts

Crossbow bolts vary depending on their composition, type of nock and bolt head designs, and weight range. This article aims to review the crossbow bolt according to these fundamental differences, its general overview, unique parts, and how it differs from a traditional arrow.

What is a Crossbow Bolt?

The crossbows were considered a brutal war weapon, requiring less physical effort and training to launch the projectile compared to a traditional bow. Crossbows are themselves a modified version of the traditional bow. Similarly, medieval crossbow bolts were also enhanced versions of bow arrows in terms of speed, weight, material, and composition.

A crossbow bolt, in general, is a dart-like projectile propelled by a crossbow to shoot the target. It has a square head design and is typically shorter and thicker than regular bow arrows. The overall composition of bolts is made of hardwood; however, their heads are crafted of particular steel. The crossbow bolts have four distinctive parts: shaft, fletching, bolt head, and a nock. Due to their durable composition, they are heavier than traditional arrows and possess a fairly even trajectory.

What is the difference between a Crossbow bolt and an arrow?

A crossbow bolt differs from a regular arrow and is often misunderstood for the same as they both serve a similar purpose, (both launch projectiles from a bow/crossbow that hits a target). Bolt and Arrow are therefore often linguistically used interchangeably because they have the same functionality. However, there are notable differences between the two. Crossbow bolts are more compact than arrows and relatively shorter. In ancient times, bolts were composed of forged iron with spearheads and had no proper stabilizing vanes in the back, whereas modern day bolts have vanes. In terms of speed, bolts are comparatively faster than regular arrows. Likewise, they also penetrate more than regular arrows due to their solid composition. Arrows are longer in length and have proper stabilizing vanes.

Aside from the historical perspectives, Bolts and Arrows differ significantly in their respective weights, load time, penetration, range, and trajectory. Here are some major differences between a crossbow bolt and an arrow one should be aware of.

Traditional crossbows used bolts (also known as quarrels).  Most modern crossbows and bows utilize arrows as well as bolts. For instance, Killer Instinct crossbows use bolts designed specifically for their models such as Hyper™ 20” bolts and SWAT Lite 22” bolts. In comparison, CenterPoint offers Carbon Arrows as crossbow projectiles. Although these brands are distinguished for their respective engineering and manufacturing, their crossbow bolts are similar to crossbow arrows and are often referred to as arrows both in terminology and common hunter understanding.

What are Crossbow Bolts made of?

Crossbow bolts come in 3 different compositions. They are either entirely made of Aluminum, carbon, or a combination of both.

Aluminum Bolts

Aluminum bolts are considered inexpensive and readily available in the market. however, they weigh heavier since they are made up of aircraft-strength aluminum alloy which is denser than carbon fiber. Since Aluminum bolts are heavier than Carbon, they have more kinetic energy. They are also easily re-adjustable with an arrow straightener if they bend, yet they can sometimes lose their precision and quality. Aluminum bolts need to be replaced more often than carbon arrows and may not be reusable when retrieved from the target as they are likely to bend or break. Also, when the shaft is thinner in diameter, the arrow’s weight is decreased. In that condition, it offers less durability and can easily bend or get damaged during maneuvering. Therefore, the heavier an aluminum bolt weighs, the more durable it is.

A comparative  performance test  between Aluminium bolts (the XX75 Wicked Ridge Aluminum bolts) and carbon arrows (Pro-Lite Carbon Arrow) fired by the same crossbow (Wicked Ridge Invader 400) showed:     .

the Aluminum bolt (weighing 435 grains with a 100-grain field tip) delivered a speed of 380 fps with 140 ft. lb. kinetic energy. In comparison, the carbon bolts (weighing  370 grains) delivered 400 fps with 132 ft. lb. kinetic energy.

Carbon Bolts

Carbon bolts are entirely made up of carbon fiber, which is incredibly strong and resistant to bending. This provides added stiffness to spines even with thinner diameters.  Carbon compared to aluminum is also nearly 2X less dense and 42% lighter in weight. This property ensures that carbon arrows have a greater range but are prone to quickly losing their velocity Although they are costlier than aluminum bolts, they are more durable and don’t get damaged easily, avoiding frequent replacement purchases.

Another excellent example of Carbon bolts is the Carbon Express Pile Driver Crossbow Bolt. The bolts weigh 453 grains and give about 334-335 fps when shot with Carbon Express PileDriver 390 crossbow. These carbon bolts are piercing but tend to glide down after covering 25 yards. When tested at 27 yards, these bolts gave a group of 4 inches below the target point.

Carbon – Aluminum (Mixed Combination)

The third type is the Hybrid or Mixed Combination bolts with Carbon fiber on their outer and Aluminum on their interior. This allows having the finest stiffness in precise weight. The Hybrid or Mixed Combination bolts provide the Carbon bolt’s strength with consistency and accuracy in shots of an Aluminum arrow. They are good in penetration since they retain a good amount of kinetic energy and possess excellent ballistic efficiency.

For instance, the Full-Metal Jacket (FMJ) by Easton Archery is one of the finest hybrid bolt models. The 22-inched shaft of this model weighs around 300-310 grains, and the weight is further increased with added brass bolt inserts. When tested under windy conditions, these bolts didn’t swindle around and landed accurate shots even at further distances. The bolts provide consistent results when shot several times. Due to the aluminum exterior, the bolts had less friction with the target body, allowing better infiltration and removal.

Above all, Aluminum and Carbon combination bolts are the best choice among the three variations. Mixed composition, bolts deliver the finest quality and caters to excellent target shooting at a budget-friendly price. However, they are expensive and costlier than the other types.

What are the different parts of a Crossbow Bolt?

A crossbow bolt consists of mainly four parts.


The shaft is the central body of a crossbow bolt to which all the other bolt parts are attached. It is made up of Aluminum, Carbon, or a combination of both. The shaft comes in a variety of strengths due to its scale of stiffness, which is also called “spine.” The more a bolt has a spine, the more it is resistant to bending. Likewise, a bolt’s weight is expressed in “grains” due to its material and thickness. Every crossbow comes with its recommended or standard size, shape, and weight of the bolt set by the manufacturer. 


In modern crossbow bolts, fletchings are the little wings at the back before the nock, also known as the vanes, such as in arrows. These fletchings stabilize the mid-air flight of bolts and help them go in a smooth plain direction. At times, these increase the stability of the shot by causing the bolt to spin around its axis. In general, a quality bolt has three fletchings glued to its end. Previous arrows used fletching made of bird’s feathers. However, crossbow bolt fletchings are made of plastic. The size of fletching varies: the longer the shaft is, the longer the size of fletching.

Bolt Heads

Bolt heads are attached at the very beginning of the shaft. They are further divided into two categories: Field Points and Broad-heads. Field points (also known as target points) are bolt heads used in target practicing. These bolt heads have a pointy tip fierce enough to penetrate the practice target. In contrast, Broad-heads have a sharp edge and are used for hunting. These are further divided as follows:

Fixed Blades

Fixed blades are fixed, sharp-edged blades that are attached to the bolt. They are not removable and only possess a single flat and sharp piece screwed or attached to the tip of the shaft.

Removeable Blades

Removeable blades are easily removed from the bolt and changed whenever necessary.

Expandable Blades

Expandable blades are covered and hidden. They only expand when the bolt hits the target. As a result, the bolt causes more damage and holds a firm grip over the target body.


Nocks are the pivot points located at the end of the shaft responsible for aligning the bolt with the strings. These are an essential part of the bolt as they can influence the shooting mechanism of the crossbow. The inadequate shape of nocks often leads to dry-fire when accompanied by a high-performance crossbow. They are made of plastic or aluminum material. Plastic nocks are lightweight and less durable, whereas those made from aluminum are heavier and more durable. Most modern bolts use plastic solid-colored or neon-colored nocks, which can be upgraded with illumination through portable tiny LED lights. These lights are inserted in the nocks and are activated once the nock is pressed against the bow string. To turn it off, you can simply remove the LED light and pull its head slightly until it stops. Illuminated nocks are convenient for hunting in forestry fields or dark places. It makes it easier to track the target even over extended distances.

In general, nocks are a critical element that can change the bolt’s trajectory with its weight. Regular non-illuminated nock weighs around 8 grains to 16 grains. When upgraded with LED lights, they can upscale the weight up to 25 to 26 grains. Likewise, nocks sizes differ as there are bolts with different inner diameters.

Nocks by Fitting

Nocks differ in their respective fitting mechanisms. They are pressed into the shaft, pinned, glued, or capped. Below are the most common types categorized as per their fitting.

Press Fitting Nocks

These are the most common type of nocks, arrows, and bolts. They are simply pressed inside the hollow space at the back of the shaft without needing glue or a pin. Press-fitting nocks are compatible with carbon and aluminum arrows. In addition, they are inexpensive and easy to use. These nocks come in a variety of sizes. However, the most common sizes are 3/16 inch, i.e., 4.5 cm for thin arrows, and 1/4 inch, i.e., 6.2 cm for thicker arrows.

Pin Nocks

Pin nocks, as the name implies, are small nocks which hook onto an aluminum pin that is inserted into the shaft’s nock end. The purpose of these nocks serves great importance to experienced shooter who uses expensive shafts. The pin attachments prevent the shaft from getting damaged when an arrow is being “nocked” .The pins usually come in a standard size allowing any pin nock to fit without trouble.

Pinned nocks are mostly used in carbon and aluminum shafts  by target archers. They also come in various sizes while 3/16 inch for smaller diameter and ¼ inch for bigger diameter shafts being the most common.

Fit-Over Nocks

Fit-over or over nocks are those which are attached to the shaft by inserting the shaft into the nock. They are not glued or pressed inside the shaft. These nocks have more expansive “cut out joint space compared to the shaft allowing them to fit over the rear end of the shaft. They have been a part of traditional archery and are generally used in wooden and carbon arrows. The fit-over nocks come in 24 different sizes. 

Conventional or Coned Nocks

Cone nocks are used on aluminum arrows with cone-shaped rear tips, also known as swage. These are great for aluminum arrows since other nocks require force to attach them which can easily break the aluminum shaft. You may either just press these nocks into position and tighten them by hand or use a non-cyanoacrylate adhesive to secure them. They are available in a variety of sizes that correspond to shaft diameters.

Nocks by Shape

Nocks come in four variants that include flat, moon, capture, and hybrid moon shapes. These differences in grooves add further string retention when pulled and enhances the string’s ability to fire without getting slipped.

Flat Nock

The Flat Nock is the most basic and earliest design. It’s a flat disc attached to the rear of a crossbow arrow. It can be placed at any point on the arrow track.

Moon Nock

The Moon Nock, often known as the “Half Moon,” has a little concave curve. This permits the crossbow string to rest in a depression, preventing the string from slipping up or down the arrow while shooting.

Capture Nock

On the other hand, the “Capture Nock” is a more advanced form of the moon nock. As a result, it has a more profound concave depression.

Hybrid Moon

The “Hybrid Moon” nock is an advanced version of nocks. It is essentially a moon nock with concave perforations on the nock every 120°. This design allows shooters to attach the arrow to the string in various vane combinations.

What is the weight range for a Crossbow Bolt?

A Crossbow bolt comes in 3 different weight ranges: Light, Moderate or Standard, and Heavy. Lightweight crossbow bolts weigh around 350-399 grains. At the same time, the standard or moderate range is considered between 399-459 grains. Heavy bolts start with the weight range of 460 grains and go above. Notably, these bolts weights are inclusive of a standard 100 grain field point. 

When it comes to speed, lightweight bolts travel faster than heavy bolts. However, the penetration is higher in heavier bolts than in lighter bolts. Crossbows are often accompanied with their recommended bolt size and weight. However, once can always switch to other bolts with similar specifications.

What is the average length of a Crossbow Bolt?

The standard length of crossbow bolts ranges from 16 inches to 22 inches. On average, bolts are scaled 20 inches long. A crossbow should always be used with the recommended length and size of bolt. Although it is feasible to use bolts longer than advised, using anything shorter than recommended can cause severe damage to the bolt and to your fingers. It can cause the broadhead or field point to become trapped on the crossbow rail when shot.

How many types of Crossbow Bolts?

Crossbows bolts are further divided into two main categories aside from their composition. They include Military Crossbow Bolts and Slur bow Bolts.

In military crossbow, the bolts used are intended to improve both range and accuracy. They have a pyramidical bolt head that is much more dynamic than broadheads. In addition, these bolts have square-faced heads. In comparison, Slur bow bolts use bolts with a history of invention. Slur bow barrels are often composed of wood or metal. As a result, the origins of Slur bow bolts may be traced back to the invention of the pistol.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Always follow the seller’s recommendations for crossbow bolts. Crossbows are provided with a manual stating which type of bolts should be used to obtain the perfect precision and speed without damaging the structure. Crossbows bolts are composed of aluminum, carbon, and a mix of both materials. For beginners, aluminum bolts are an excellent choice since they are cheaper. However, for experienced hunters and shooters, Carbon fiber and a mix of both materials are well-chosen. These bolts are more durable in composition but are also more expensive. They are rigid and swift while allowing better penetration. 

The answer is no. Just as the crossbows are different in their specifications and features, bolts also differ in their size, weight, and composition. You can only use the same bolt with a different crossbow if it perfectly fits the specific needs, such as recommended size and construction of the bolt. Using a bolt that does not meet your crossbow recommendations runs the risk of damaging the strings, limbs, and rail. Crossbows usually come with recommended bolts. These bolts are readily available on the marketplace, so that you can buy replacements. When purchasing, ensure the bolts’ length and weight are the same as advised.

All crossbows come with a manufacturer’s suggestion for the length of the arrows you should use. Typically, the bolts come in various lengths, such as 16, 18, 20, and 22 inches On average, modern crossbows bolts are 20 inches long. The manufacturer’s recommended bolt size is usually provided in the manual for your crossbow. Using the bolts with similar specifications is acceptable. However, you can damage your crossbow if you use the wrong sized bolts. Therefore, always check the manual and purchase the size as recommended.

No. You cannot shoot any bolts in a crossbow since every crossbow is designed and engineered with specific features. As modern crossbows are becoming compact and smaller, their bolt’s size and weight also differ. They have different speeds, kinetic energy, railing lengths, etc., so it is always advised to use the recommended bolts. Crossbow bolts are typically provided in the package. Besides, the manufacturer also supplies a manual recommending which type of bolt in terms of size and length should be opted for to attain the optimal speed, precision, and penetration.

No. A regular arrow should not be used with a crossbow. Regular arrows are not interchangeable even though they look alike and serve the same purpose. Regular arrows have been designed to support the archery bows. Since there is more draw length in archery bows, the regular arrows have elongated shafts. These arrows are much longer than those used by crossbows and differ in composition. Therefore, always use regular arrows with bows and crossbow arrows recommended by the manufacturer with crossbows.

Yes, they do. Crossbow bolts have fletchings as wings glued to their ends. These help the bolts to rotate around their axis to sustain the trajectory once they have left the bowstring. The vanes or fletchings at the back of a bolt help steer the bolt’s flight direction by working with the force exerted on the bolt by the bow string and interacting with the wind, and spinning around the bolt’s axis, causing the entire bolt to spin. The spinning action of the bolt helps it counteract the force that is pulling it away from its target (example wind). The vanes/ fletching prevent the bolt from changing directions and maintain a straight flight pattern.

Yes, it is possible in modern arrows. For example, many arrows now have numbers imprinted on them that may be linked to where they were purchased. These numbers are more like barcodes that have been assigned to each crossbow arrow model. When purchased, the receipt of payment often has these numbers against the item, which helps trace the arrows back to the shop’s inventory ledgers or systems.

Crossbow bolts are typically shorter and much heavier than arrows. These are designed exclusively to be used with crossbows. A bolt has a thicker shaft, while an arrow has a thinner but longer shaft. Previously, bolts did not have fletching or wings at the back. However, modern crossbow bolts are comparatively becoming more like arrows but with a smaller length. In addition, Bolts can also be formed entirely of metal, whereas regular arrows are often made up of a head, a wooden shaft, and fletching.

Yes. Crossbow bolts are generally shorter than arrows: their length helps distinguish them from arrows. These are designed to fit perfectly to the crossbow rail and sustain the energy released by the strings without overly engaging. When using a bolt, it’s always advised to use the length recommended by the manufacturer. Shorter than recommended bolts can get stuck in the crossbow rail and result in damage. For instance, if you use an 18 inches bolt on a crossbow with a recommended 20 inches size, the strings will exert more energy, affecting the limbs and crossbow.

Yes. Increasing or reducing the weight of a crossbow bolt affects the speed with which the bolt travels. Since a lighter crossbow bolt is easier to move from a resting position, a crossbow will fire it faster than a heavier one. However, the penetration it causes is lower than the heavier ones.

In general, crossbows have a 30-fps speed advantage and 30 ft. lbs. of kinetic energy advantage over compound bows. The lowest kinetic energy needed on the bolt while practicing archery or shooting games is roughly 23 pounds. However, in the case of bigger prey such as bears, this kinetic energy can exceed 43 pounds. Similarly, a bolt spends 3-4% kinetic energy for every yard.

The proportion of the arrow’s overall weight positioned in the front half of the arrow is referred to as the Front of the Center Ratio (FOC) in archery. The arrow’s center-of-balance moves forward when additional weight is placed in the front portion of the arrow. The bolt’s rear weight is reduced with fewer vanes or fletching, improving overall FOC and projectile precision.

A bolt with an elevated F.O.C. will glide with good steadiness, but it will lose its course and plunge more quickly. A crossbow bolt with a low F.O.C. will effectively maintain its trajectory but fly unpredictably. For shooting setups and maximum accuracy, crossbow bolts with a F.O.C. of 10-15% are recommended.