The Best Crossbow Bolts for Target Shooters and Bow Hunters
So you’ve found a crossbow you love—wonderful! Now you need something to shoot from it.
Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done—there are so many models out there, with so many different features, that it can be difficult to choose the best crossbow bolts among the many, many options available.
So here’s our handy guide to help you cut through the clutter and choose a bolt for your crossbow. We’ll start with a quick overview of the bolts we like, and then we’ll provide a brief “Buyer’s Manual” in case you’re new to bolts, and then we’ll get into the details, where we’ll talk in-depth about our picks, and their strengths/weaknesses, and what situations they may be good for. Let’s jump in:
Quick Picks: Our Favorite Crossbow Bolts (and Why)
There are six bolts we really like, and all are pretty unique:
> TY Archery Carbon Bolts: our favorite for beginners due to versatility and malleable “fix-it” fletching;
> TopArchery Carbon Hunting Bolts: these colorful bolts impressed us with their variety, and they can be a good option for camp counselors and range owners;
> REEGOX Bio Bolts: a good “one-size-fits-all” option, good for everyone from novice to experienced crossbow archers;
> Carbon Express PileDriver Bolts: our high-end recommendation thanks to its spine, and our recommendation for hunting medium-sized to large game—and our pick for best bolt overall;
> VNAKER Carbon Bolts: our pick for new bowhunters, because the bolts come with six hunting broadheads; and finally
> Barnett 16079 Crossbow Bolts: a great option, in our humble opinion, for crossbow archers looking for a lightweight, well-constructed 22-inch bolt.
Alrighty! Now let’s dig into what separates one bolt from another.
How to Select Crossbow Bolts
We usually suggest crossbow archers do the following when selecting bolts:
Find the Correct Bolt Length
We listed this feature first, as it’s one of the most important specs you need to consider.
Most bolts are 16, 18, 20, or 22 inches long, with 20 inches being the most common. There is some flexibility when choosing the length, but it should generally be at least as long as your crossbow rail and no more than two inches longer. You’ll need to know your crossbow’s specs to select the right length, so check the packaging, or go online and find the owner’s manual—and if neither of those options work out, call the company’s help line and try to talk to a representative.
Bolt length is a biggie. It’s not only important for reliable flight, it’s important for safety, too—the wrong bolt length could cause the bolt head to get caught in the rail, leading to a misfire—and that’s especially true (and especially dangerous) if there’s a broadhead at the end of the bolt.
Match the Bolt to Your Crossbow’s Supported Draw Weight
Crossbows have always been more powerful than vertical bows, but modern crossbows have gotten tremendously powerful, sometimes shooting over 400 feet per second with draw weights over 200 pounds. That is way, way, WAY more than the most powerful compound bows you’ll come across, and it’s important to keep in mind.
Bolts are designed to withstand a specific amount of force from a crossbow, so it is very important—we repeat, VERY IMPORTANT—that you select a bolt that can withstand your crossbow’s draw weight.
That means you need to know your crossbow’s draw weight, and select bolts that are suited to that draw weight. This, too, is a biggie—if you select a bolt that can’t withstand the force of the crossbow string, it can warp the bolt or even snap it into shards that can fly every-which-way, injuring you and/or others.
No good. Always select bolts that are strong enough for your crossbow’s draw weight.
Consider the Weight of the Bolt Itself
Bolts are measured in grains, which is a unit of measurement equivalent to about 65 milligrams. Most crossbow bolts are somewhere between 300 and 500 grains. Field points tend to add another 100 grains or so, as do broadheads (but you’ll need to check the specs on your broadhead to find out how much it weighs).
Since kinetic energy is a product of both mass and velocity, lighter weight translates to faster bolts and vice versa. Faster bolts travel farther before dropping and are therefore easier to aim. As a result, they can be better for practicing and learning accuracy. Heavier bolts, on the other hand, can penetrate game farther, so they can benefit expert bowhunters who have good aim and are probably using a powerful crossbow that’s still going to get good speed anyway.
Bolt weight can get really complicated—and we know that as soon as we wrote, “Since kinetic energy is a product of both…” a number of you immediately zoned out!—but it’s both 1) important to understand, and 2) beyond the scope of this post. We’ve written about the physics of bolts and arrows here if you’d like to learn more.
Select the Appropriate Spine
Spine refers to how stiff the shaft of your bolt is, and the method of measuring spine is a bit complicated, but it involves suspending a weight, usually around two pounds, from the middle of the bolt and seeing how much it bends in inches. That number is then multiplied by 1,000 to get the spine rating. For example, a bolt with a spine of 350 bends .35 inches under two pounds of force.
Spine affects accuracy. Simply put, stiffer bolts fly straighter and are easier to aim. This is especially true if you’re using a powerful crossbow with a high draw weight. Stiffer spines tend to be features of more “deluxe” bolts, with “budget” bolts having more flexible spines.
Look at the Function of Your Bolts
When we say “Function,” what we’re talking about is your purpose for using a crossbow: in almost all cases, people use bolts for target shooting or for hunting game.
For target shooting, it can make sense to buy in bulk, so to speak—bolts can get dinged up with use, and if you plan on shooting a lot of them (as most recreational crossbow shooters do), it can make sense to buy a model that’s rugged and can withstand some punishment.
For hunting, the opposite is true—your goal is to shoot as few bolts as possible, so you may want to go for a more high-end version that you hope to only shoot a few times.
Take into Account Your Experience Level
This is an extension of the last section, and it’s more of a guideline than a rule: beginners may want to opt for mid-range bolts, as opposed to high-end, deluxe bolts, because they really do get put through the ringer. New crossbows users are often surprised that bolts are not indestructible, and they get dents in the shaft, their fletchings come loose, their points get stuck in targets, etc.
So keep that in mind—if you’re need to using a crossbow, consider that you may damage them a little more easily than you’d imagine.
The Best Crossbow Bolts: Our Selections
Alright! Now that you know a thing or two about bolt features and how they might impact your personal crossbow experience, let’s take a look at the bolts we usually recommend. We’ll start with one that we think is a great option for beginners:
TY Archery Carbon Bolts
Summary: We think the TY Archery Carbon Bolts are great for beginners and youth crossbow archers—they’re durable, colorful, and available in a range of lengths, and most importantly, they’re easy to use.
> Three sizing options
> Malleable fletching
> Loose point threading
TY Archery’s Carbon Bolts are one of our picks for beginners and young archers, because they're weighted for crossbows with a lower draw weight (and new archers and young archers usually use lower draw weight crossbows), and because they have repairable nocks, which is a fantastic feature if you beat up your bolts—which new crossbow users usually do!
We’ll talk about the size and weight options first: the bolt is manufactured in lengths of 16, 18, and 20 inches, with the 16-inch bolts weighing 364 grains, the 18-inch weighing 385 grains, and the 20-inch weighing 402 grains. In the grand scheme of things, those measurements are pretty lightweight, making them a good potential match for lower-poundage beginner crossbows. You can still get high bolt speeds and accurate shots with them, but they're not the heavy, weight-bearing bolts that big-game hunters like to use. That lower weight can make archery accessible to the inexperienced or teenagers who may not be able to handle the most powerful crossbows out there, and we think that's fantastic.
The practice tips are also designed for new archers: to facilitate practice, TY Archery’s Carbon Bolts come with 100-grain practice tips that penetrate targets easily, but can be removed without hassle in case you'd like to use heavier tips or broadheads. The nocks are removable as well, in case you feel a different kind would improve your accuracy or help the learning process.
All that said, the most stand-out feature of these bolts is probably the malleable fletchings. Oftentimes, the fletchings on a bolt can become warped or dented, and that can throw the bolt off course during flight. TY Archery features fletchings that can you can repair—you put the vanes into near-boiling water for a few minutes, and they should soften back into their original shape. That can be a great feature for crossbow archers who put their bolts through the ringer (and it can be very satisfying for all the DIY folks out there!).
By the way, the fletchings themselves are made in bright colors, which make them great for retrieval. They're manufactured in orange and red, with one white “middle feather" for orientation. Usually, target bolts have colorful fletchings, whereas hunting bolts have fletchings that are green or brown or tan, to match a hunting environment, which is great—but makes them easy to lose, so it’s great that these are colorful.
As one last benefit of these bolts, they come in packs of 12. That’s a lot, which is nice for beginners who have a tendency to accidentally lose them by missing the target.
TopArchery Carbon Hunting Bolts
Summary: With a number of color options and lengths, TopArchery Carbon Hunting Bolts are focused on kids, beginners, or anyone else new to using a crossbow—and can be a great option for camp counselors or range owners.
> Multiple color schemes
> 12 in a pack
> Malleable vanes
> Nothing, really?
TopArchery’s Carbon Hunting Bolts are another fun choice for beginners. They have many of the features we'd want to see in a beginner/youth bolt: they're available in 16, 18, and 20 inches, they're good on crossbows with a range of draw weights (including draw weights up to 250 pounds, which should include just about every beginner/youth archer out there), and they feature fixable fletchings and vanes, so you can touch them up if they get warped. They come in packs of 12, which is great for new archers, who tend to ding up bolts and/or lose them.
All that said, the thing we really like about the TopArchery bolts is that they're offered in a wide range of colors. That can make them great for youth leaders, camp counselors, range owners, and the like. If you've got a bunch of crossbow archers and you need to give each of them bolts with a specific color, it can help if you've got a lot of colors to choose from. At present, the TopArchery bolts are made in green and white, green and blue, blue and white, orange and white, and purple and white. That's about as much color variety as we've seen, and that's fantastic.
So, in our humble opinion, and other great option for youth crossbow archers and beginner crossbow archers.
REEGOX Bio Bolts
Summary: The REEGOX Bio Bolt set are a “one-size-fits all” bolt, good for beginners and hunters, thanks to durable construction and options that fit a range of sizes and tastes.
> Tough shaft
> Neon fletching
> Three sizes
> Flimsy fletching
We imagine that REEGOX designed their REEGOX Crossbow Bolts for a mass-market audience: they're versatile and come in a wide variety of lengths and fletching colors, and that means they can be a good option for a wide range of crossbow users. Very often, manufacturers will make a *single* type of bolt, and that's that, so it's nice to see some variance between each type of REEGOX bolt.
The REEGOX bolts come in three different lengths—16, 18 and 20 inches—making them appropriate for a wide range of crossbows. Right off that bat, that's fantastic, and we also like that the REEGOX bolt sets comes in a pack of 12, which is three times as many bolts as most quivers can hold.
As for the he bolts themselves, they're durable without being heavy—specifically, the 16-inch bolts weigh in at 368 grains, the 18-inch 380 grains, and the 20-inch 425 grains—and that lighter weight means higher bolt speed for the same crossbow draw weight.
The field tips that come included can be used for practice thanks to their low 125 grains of weight, but if you're hunting, you'll need to get separate broadheads and change them out. Luckily, the design of the shaft allows for changing out the nocks and points easily.
The main concern with these bolts is the plastic fletching, which, while durable, can become inaccurate with repeated use. As a result, we suggest the REEGOX for practice, especially for beginners, as well as basic hunting at short range.
Carbon Express PileDriver
Summary: The Carbon Express PileDriver is a good option for big game hunters using powerful, high-end crossbows because its stiff spine improves accuracy and penetration, even at long distances. This gets our vote for best crossbow bolt overall.
> VERY stiff spine
> Quality fletching
> Different nocks included
> Only 20-inch available
> Heavier than many other bolts
First of all, that name: "Pile Driver." What a great name! It really sends the message of force being delivered at the end of the bolt, and we love that.
The Carbon Express PileDriver Bolts are a higher-end option, and they can provide the capability for great accuracy, primarily due to their impressive spine. They’re very stiff, and only bend around .004 inches from the center, thereby allowing them to fly straighter than a bolt with a more flimsy makeup. That stiff spine can allow you to use them on more powerful crossbows, and that's great for hunting larger game—it can provide you with the opportunity to hunt from farther away, and from more challenging positions.
We like, too, that the spine doesn't come at the expense of weight, which sometimes happens—stiff bolts can end up weighing too much. The PileDriver manages to weigh in at only 442 grains, which is a *bit* heavier than most bolts—but that can actually mean good penetration into game if you have a powerful, high-end crossbow.
The capability for greater accuracy isn’t just a result of the spine, however. The three four-inch vanes provide quality fletching that produces some stability when the bolt leaves the crossbow. The fletching is also color-coded with a white “middle feather” to show you how to orient it and two neon green “hen feathers.” We appreciate the neon green color—it's bold enough so that you may be able to locate the bolt if you miss your target, but it's close enough to a natural green so that it doesn't stand out while you're trying to hide from your game.
Another nice design feature is the variety of nocks. Each bolt has an inserted moon nock, but six universal flat nocks are included as well, which you can switch out as you please. Moon nocks are a more advanced option—they can provide improved accuracy and a more predictable flight path, as the nock more closely grips the bowstring as it leaves the crossbow—but incorrectly oriented moon nocks can lead to a dry fire, so you have to know what you’re doing. For that reason, flat nocks may be better for beginners. You should also check the manual on your crossbow—certain crossbows may specify one kind of nock or another.
We mentioned elsewhere that higher-end bolts come to come in smaller numbers, and that's the case here—there are six 20-inch bolts in each pack, which is fewer than you'll find in most target bolts, but it's still enough to fill most quivers.
If you're hunting game—particularly big game—or just taking your target shooting to the next level, this is our top pick.
VNAKER Carbon Bolts
Summary: If you’re looking for a bolt that comes with a broadhead installed, we usually suggest the VNAKER Carbon Bolts—they can be a great way to “hit the ground running” when it comes to bowhunting with a crossbow.
> Includes broadheads
> Bright colors
> Broadhead assembly required
> Somewhat weak spine
If you're new to bowhunting—and new to bowhunting with a crossbow—it can be REALLY overwhelming to try and figure out all the gear you need to get started.
If that describes your situation, the VNAKER’s Carbon Bolts may be a good option, as they come with six fixed-blade broadheads. They're steel, they're really sharp (so be VERY careful), and they're designed for hunting. Having broadheads that come with the bolt can be a load off your mind if you're not sure what kind of tip you need on your bolt to go crossbow hunting.
The broadhead itself is only 100 grains, so it doesn’t add much weight to the bolt, and that can help you achieve higher speed and accuracy with your shots. The three-blade design can help with penetration and even aerodynamics in flight—but keep in mind, you can always remove the broadhead tips and replace them with regular field points if you want.
As for the bolts themselves, we like the lightweight carbon shafts, which weigh in at around 385 grains. It also has a spine of 500, which means it bends about half an inch when a two-pound weight is applied to it. That's is a bit high for crossbow bolts, and it means the bolt is probably better paired with lower draw-weight crossbows.
The VNAKER Carbon Bolts are 20 inches and come in packs of 12, which is plenty to get started with, and we think they're a good option if you're preparing for your first bowhunting trip.
Barnett 16079 Carbon 22-Inch Bolts
Summary: At 22 inches, the Barnett 16079 is an extra-long bolt option for powerful crossbows that utilizes tough but lightweight carbon construction to produce a fast, accurate, and durable model.
> Durable carbon shaft
> Black middle feather
Extra-long bolts—by which we mean the 22-inch variety—can often be hard to find. If that's what you need, we usually suggest the Barnett 16079 Carbon Bolts—they're somewhat unique in the world of bolts, and if you're using any of the Barnett crossbows that require 22-inch bolts (specifically the Quad 400, Quad AVI, Predator, Revolution AVI, and Buck Commander), they can be a good option.
Outside of the extra-long length of the bolts, their standout feature is their construction. The shafts are carbon—one of the prized materials in arrow and bolt manufacturing—and they're incredibly lightweight. They weigh in at only 13.78 grains per inch, which is just a touch over 300 grains for a 22-inch bolt. Add a 100-grain field tip, and that’s only 400 grains, which is very lightweight, especially for a 22-inch bolt. All that means more of your crossbow’s power is turned into speed, which means more penetration and accuracy over distance.
Really the only thing we don’t like about these bolts is the color scheme. While the all-black shaft with black middle feather looks sleek and can be great in hunting environments, it doesn’t catch the eye when orienting it in the barrel of the crossbow—and that's an incredibly important process, as a poorly-loaded bolt can be dangerous. Expert archers who feel confident loading a crossbow may like the extra camouflage when hunting in dim light, but we'd be wary with these if you're new to crossbow shooting or new to shooting in low-light hunting environments.
It would be nice if they came packaged in greater numbers—the 16079s come in a pack of five—and that's usually enough for a quiver-full, but because 22-inchers are so rare, it would be nice if they came in higher numbers. Not a big deal, really, and if you're interested in 22-inchers, this is usually what we recommend.
Let ’Em Fly
To a certain extent, finding the right bolt for you is a bit of trial and error. The more bolts you shoot, the more you’ll understand both them and your crossbow. That’s why it’s important to get out there and let ’em fly. That’s what bolts are for, so don’t be afraid to use them, wear them out, get more, trade out the points and the nocks, and just get as much experience as possible. This is how you get the most out of your crossbow anyway, so go have fun.
We hope that helps—aim straight, be safe, and all the best to you!